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October 30, 2014

Sessions opens fire in water wars

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Posted: Thursday, February 13, 2014 11:03 am

No truce has ever been declared in the water wars between Georgia, Alabama and Florida, but there was something of a cease-fire after a 2011 court case ruled in Georgia’s favor.

That moved the conflict from the battleground of the courtroom into the halls of Congress, and Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions has launched a new offensive in an effort to limit Georgia’s increasing diversion of water that would otherwise flow through Alabama and Florida.

Our neighbors to the south argue that the decreased amount of water making its way to Appalachicola Bay has harmed the seafood industry there. That water arrives from the Chattahoochee, Flint and Appalachicola rivers.

Sessions is now arguing that Georgia’s siphoning of water is reducing the flow to the Alabama-Coosal-Tallapoosa River Basin, which is affecting how much hydroelectric power can be produced. And that affects both the environment and the price of electricity. Water-generated power is cheaper to produce and cleaner than burning carbon fuels.

In hearings last summer, Sessions questioned water management officials from all three states and leaders from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before a Congressional committee. The Corps of Engineers is charged with operations at dams and lakes on the rivers, from which Georgia is using water to serve the growing metro Atlanta area.

Sessions articulated his findings in a formal letter to Senators Barbara Boxer and David Vitter, members of the Committee on the Environment and Public Works. He argued that local water supply is not an authorized purpose of Lake Allatoona, and only minimal withdrawals have been authorized for Lake Lanier. He said the Army Corps of Engineers ignores the limititations of the Water Supply Act of 1958, and that Atlanta refused to help construct the reservoirs, saying other sources of water were available—yet now it looks to those reservoirs as a primary source of its water supply.

Sessions charges that the Army Corps of Engineers has entered, but refused to enforce, water supply contracts with Atlanta area interest, even allowing withdrawals for just one thousandth of a penny per gallon, and resell that water for 250 times that amount.

He also claims federal hydropower customers in Alabama would pay lower rates for their electricity if Atlanta area interests paid appropriately for water they actually withdraw.

Sessions said all parties involved agree the best way forward is to facilitate resolution of the dispute is through mutual negotiation of a water compact, and said Georgia has already identified reasonable steps it can take to reduce its reliance on Lake Lanier.

Reduced flows have alarmed lake property owners and recreational users in our area, and the limitations on electric power and environmental impacts affect everyone in the area directly or indirectly.

We’re pleased to see Sen. Sessions moving forward to defend Alabama’s interests in the dispute.

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