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New manual not panacea to ‘water wars’

Operations guide to Lanier hasn’t been updated since 1959

POSTED: May 13, 2009 4:00 a.m.

Pete Taylor, chief of staff for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mobile District, said last Tuesday night he was excited about federal stimulus funding for an updated water manual.

  

“We’re not solving the water wars, but we’re going to make the smartest decisions we can,” he added, addressing the Lake Lanier Association at its annual membership meeting at the Lakeview Center.

  

Georgia, Florida and Alabama have been engaged in a nearly 20-year dispute over who should get the lion’s share of Lake Lanier’s water.

  

At least seven lawsuits still are pending in federal courts and a hearing is set for Monday in Jacksonville, Fla.

  

“One of the questions I typically get is ‘(if) the judge says you don’t have authority for water supply, what do you do?’” Taylor said.

  

“He says that, and we have to stop and regroup. He says you have it, and we’re on the right path. We think we have the authority to operate the way we’ve been operating, but (the judge’s ruling) could change our schedule and our plan.”

  

Taylor said the schedule calls for revised protocols for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin by January 2012.

  

The process is expected to cost $8 million, including $3 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

  

Taylor said a similar plan was updated for the Missouri River, a process that took 16 years to complete and cost $35 million.

  

The corps is in the first of a four-year plan to update the manual, which was last updated in 1959.

  

In the first year, the agency gathered public input, which has been compiled in a document that is 7 inches thick, Taylor said.

  

Comments varied widely by region.

  

“There are some folks who say ‘You need to look at everything possible,’” Taylor said.

  

“Others said the heart of the controversy among the states on this is your ability to provide water supply storage out of Lake Lanier and that ‘you need to stop this process and do nothing until you get that ruling from the judge.’

  

“So we’ve had two extremes: full speed ahead, step on the accelerator and go as fast as you can, and stop and do nothing.”

  

The $3 million for the manual update is a small fraction of overall stimulus money the corps is receiving. The agency announced last week that it is getting $293 million, with about $8.3 million for Buford Dam and Lake Lanier.

  

Lake advocates have applauded the move, including Jackie Joseph, president of the Lake Lanier Association. The manual “is close to 50 years old and definitely needs to be updated,” she has said.

  

Taylor also briefly addressed the corps’ decision in April to resume regular water discharges — 750 cubic feet per second, up from 650 — from Buford Dam into the Chattahoochee River.

  

Last year at this time, the drought was projected to get worse, he said.

The lake’s full pool is 1,071 feet above sea level. As of May 5 the lake stood at 1,064.36, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

  

The regular discharges mean “less than 2 inches a month of water surface,” said Lisa Coghlan, deputy public affairs officer with the corps.

 

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