Georgia governor creates water wars office while Florida names outspoken environmental chief


Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced Thursday he is establishing a new office to coordinate the state’s efforts on two fronts in water wars with Alabama and Florida.

Also on Thursday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott named Jon Steverson, the outspoken executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District, to lead the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

12-12-14 ACT ACF map via ARC
Map courtesy of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Georgia has been fighting its neighboring states in federal court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. In November, the U. S. Supreme Court appointed Maine lawyer Robert I. Lancaster to oversee a lawsuit filed by Florida in 2013 requesting that the court divide the water among the states.

And Georgia has been battling Alabama over water from the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river system, which does not flow through Florida. On Nov. 7, Georgia sued the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers over a proposed water plan for Lake Allatoona, a reservoir on a tributary of the Coosa River.

Deal announced Thursday that he was appointing Jud Turner, director of the Environmental Protection Division, to head a new office for interagency coordination and management of water resources. Turner has been division director since 2012 and previously served as executive counsel to Gov. Sonny Perdue before he left office in 2011.

Deal said Turner will work closely with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and that John Allen, of the law firm Kazmarek, Mowrey, Cloud & Laseter LLP, will join the office as deputy director. He said the work is “incredibly important to the well-being of our state’s people and its economy.”

12-12-14 Nathan Deal
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. Photo courtesy of the Georgia Governor’s Office.

Florida’s lawsuit “has placed significant new demands on state agencies involved in these matters,” Deal said. “Add to this the renewed litigation against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over additional water supply from Lake Allatoona, and the workload requires the state to take additional steps to assure we have the right staff in place.”

There was no response to a request for comment from Scott’s office or the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Steverson has been an outspoken critic of Georgia’s water use while telling U. S. senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio of Florida in 2013 that protection of the Apalachicola River is a “big deal.”

Jon Steverson. Photo courtesy of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.
Jon Steverson. Photo courtesy of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

“The people of Georgia can do a little bit less with their water,” Steverson said during an 2013 hearing in Apalachicola before an audience of seafood workers.

“If their water is low up there,” he added, “it means they can’t drive their favorite jet ski into their favorite little cove and they can’t tie up their boat to the dock. Here, it means these guys can’t make a living.”

Steverson replaces Herschel T. Vinyard Jr., who resigned Dec. 1 as expected following Scott’s first term.

In response to the Georgia governor’s announcement, Dan Tonsmeire of Apalachicola Riverkeeper said, “I hope Florida will match them man to man with a full court press.”

Laura Hartt, staff scientists and water policy director of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper environmental group in Georgia, said the move was not surprising.

In Georgia, environmental groups have criticized Deal’s proposals to build new dams and reservoirs. Hartt said Lake Lanier, the federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River that has been the focus of the fight between Florida and Georgia, remains the most cost-effective and sustainable water supply for which there is no substitute for the Atlanta region.

“Therefore, we hope that (Georgia) will focus its efforts to resolve the tri-state controversy on implementation of additional water conservation measures in order to demonstrate good stewardship to our downstream neighbors, rather than focusing on new, expensive, and unsustainable water supply projects that could take decades to build,” she said.

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