Ten of Georgia’s 15 representatives in Congress met in the basement rec room at Gov. Sonny Perdue’s house on Monday to discuss who will carry on what part of the fight for water on Georgia’s behalf.
Quick headline: Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has agreed to about 20 dates this year for a renewal of negotiations over use of water from Lake Lanier. Florida has yet to respond to Georgia’s overtures.
My AJC colleague Kristi Swartz has more details.
Last month, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which controls Buford Dam, never had the authority to allow most of metro Atlanta to use Lake Lanier for drinking water.
Billions upon billions of dollars in economic development are at stake.
The importance of the Monday meeting at the Governor’s Mansion was underlined by the heavy attendance during an August recess — a period that members of Congress, when not being berated at town hall meetings, jealously guard for time with family.
Both of Georgia’s U.S. senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, showed up. House Republicans Nathan Deal of north Georgia and Phil Gingrey of Marietta slipped out before a brief press conference that followed — as did Democrat John Barrow.
Others attending were John Lewis, David Scott, Sanford Bishop and Hank Johnson.
“We all recognize the seriousness of the issue,” Chambliss said.
Perdue has taken great pains to keep the all the facets of state’s interests together. The attendance of Bishop, who represents southwest Georgia — a region that sometimes tends to side more with Florida and Alabama on water issues — was important.
The governor said he had also briefed — “the other day” — the heads of local governments, including Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin, and the commission chairmen of Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Gwinnett counties.
The governor also said he hopes to meet with a group of Georgia environmentalists “in the near future,” to make sure they’re on board.
The main purpose of Perdue’s meeting with the Georgia delegation was the division of labor. Negotiations over water use will remain the province of the governor, to be conducted with the governors of Florida and Alabama.
But at minimum, the federal judge has demanded that Congress give its approval to the use of Lake Lanier for anything other than power generation, flood control or navigation.
In Congress, delegations from Alabama and Florida outnumber Georgia (though all three are majority Republican in a Democratic Congress). In order to compensate for that weakness, Perdue has advocated nationalizing the fight.
“From a congressional standpoint, this is not just relegated to Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Early research shows there may be as many as 48 other impoundments operated by the Corps where drinking water is a use that’s not authorized,” Isakson said.
Does that mean the best strategy is to make the fight larger?
“I think the facts will dictate which way we go on that,” Isakson replied. “But if multiple states — as many as 27 or 28 — are affected, then we might take a national approach.”
But the senator was by no means certain.
Chimed in Scott, the Atlanta congressman: “I think it also matters how quickly we can get it done, either regionally or nationally.”
And it’s interesting that Chambliss spoke drafting federal legislation that his colleagues in Alabama and Florida would sign onto.
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