A U. S. Army Corps of Engineers proposal released Wednesday would provide about 15 percent less water from the Chattahoochee River for Georgia cities than the state requested in 2013 but substantially more water than they are using now.
The federal agency says the effect on Apalachicola Bay, where oysters populations have been suffering, would be negligible compared to existing water use. But Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida criticized the proposal for failing to help the bay.
Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been battling in federal court over water from the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers since 1990. Florida in 2013 sued Georgia in the U. S. Supreme Court over water use affecting the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers.
Georgia earlier in 2013 had asked the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide for cities 705 million gallons per day from the Chattahoochee River and Lake Lanier reservoir north of Atlanta, or nearly 75 percent more water than the cities currently are being allowed to use.
The Corps of Engineers, through a draft water control manual update and environmental impact statement, on Wednesday proposed providing 593 million gallons per day from the river and Lake Lanier. Georgia cities now have contracts to use 20 million gallons per day but receive 405 million gallons from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River.
Compared to current water use, the proposal would have negligible effects on Apalachicola Bay, the federal agency said.
There was no comment from state officials in Florida and Georgia as they said they were taking time to review the proposal. In July, Florida Gov. Rick Scott met privately with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal in Tallahassee to discuss water but no details were provided. Both states are operating under a confidentiality order they requested earlier this year in the Supreme Court case.
Nelson, D-Melbourne, said through a spokesman, “Apparently, the draft released today isn’t going to change one thing to help Apalachicola Bay. This is very disappointing.”
Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee, said the Corps’ environmental impact study does not address the devastating harm being done to Apalachicola By by the withholding of fresh water.
“At best, this will keep in place the status quo,” she said. “At worst, it could cause further harm to the bay’s ecology and to our economy.”
As part of its water control manual update, the Corps of Engineers “evaluated an array of potential water management and water supply storage alternatives during the (water control manual) update process,” E. Patrick Robbins, a Corps spokesman in Mobile, Ala., said in a statement.
Under the proposed alternative, the Corps “would continue to operate the ACF (Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint rivers) as a system in a balanced manner to achieve all authorized project purposes,” Robbins said.
The proposal will be followed by a 60-day comment period and five public hearings in the three states, including a scheduled Nov. 9 hearing in Eastpoint. A final decision is expected to be issued in the spring of 2017.
Florida’s lawyers have told the Supreme Court that the Water Control Manual update is unrelated to their legal case. Florida seeks to cap Georgia’s water use so as to provide more flow in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers irrespective of how the Corps operates its dams.
Alabama and Georgia generally want water for cities and industries while Florida wants to support fish and wildlife in the Apalachicola River and the seafood industry at Apalachicola Bay.
The Corps proposal released Wednesday also will be reviewed by the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service for compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act. The Corps of Engineers says no effects are expected on threatened Gulf sturgeon or threatened and endangered mussels in the Apalachicola River.
Alabama and Florida sued the Corps of Engineers in 1990 after it proposed reallocating Lake Lanier water from hydropower to water use for cities as part of a proposed water control manual update. Those cases were consolidated in a case that was put on hold in 2011 pending the Corps of Engineers action.
In 2013, Georgia renewed an earlier request of 705 million gallons per day to meet water use needs through 2040 as the Atlanta area’s population was expected to grow from 3.3 million to 6 million. Florida officials in turn urged the Corps to require water conservation in Georgia and release more water from Lake Lanier during droughts to provide for the ecological health of Apalachicola Bay and the Apalachicola River floodplain.
Recreation, boating and tourism around Lake Lanier also play an important role in the water dispute. The Corps of Engineers says the proposal would result in a decreased annual value of recreation on Lake Lanier of less than 1 percent and other reservoirs would not be affected.
(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be requested at bruceBritchie@gmail.com)