While a meeting between lawmakers from Georgia, Florida and Alabama did not end the tri-state water wars last Wednesday morning, U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, said it was a start.
Lawmakers from the three states met for an hour Wednesday behind closed doors in a meeting initiated by Deal and Rep. John Lewis, D-Atlanta.
When the representatives emerged, they had agreed only to encourage their governors to begin negotiating. “It is a beginning,” Deal said. “... I think it is helpful that the congressional delegations from all three states are saying in a uniform manner that this is what our point of view is that as governors you need to begin the process.”
The lawmakers did not discuss any recommendations on how the three states could play nice with the water resources they all share, nor did they set deadlines for the three governors to come to an agreement, Deal said.
“We didn’t think that was appropriate for this first meeting, because anything that we would do in that regard would potentially detract from the efforts that the governors are hopefully going to make,” Deal said.
A federal judge ruled in July that the Atlanta region was illegally tapping Lake Lanier. He said Georgia would lose access to the federal reservoir in three years if it can’t push a settlement through Congress authorizing the use.
The ruling gave Florida and Alabama the upper hand in the states’ two-decade dispute over river basins in the region. But most acknowledge that a compromise should be reached to keep some water flowing to Atlanta, where more than 3 million residents depend on Lake Lanier for water.
While Congress would eventually have to authorize such a settlement, lawmakers in Washington agree that Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida, Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama and Gov. Sonny Perdue of Georgia are best equipped to negotiate.
“Our purpose at this point is to encourage the negotiation process to begin at the governors’ level, because I think we all recognize that unless that occurs it will be a very, very contentious matter of resolving it in the congressional process and that’s something that we would all like to avoid if at all possible,” Deal said.
But the governors — all Republicans whose relations have been frayed by years of feuding — haven’t been able to even set up a meeting.
Perdue and Riley, particularly, appear barely able to communicate, while some lawmakers said Crist has not been engaged on the issue.
The governors all say they are eager to begin talks, blaming the others for a failure to proceed.
But after Wednesday’s meeting — the first Deal can remember between congressional leaders from the three states — the governors may get a little more prodding from federal lawmakers.
The congressional leaders said they agreed unanimously to send a joint letter to the governors emphasizing the urgency of the talks. Some expressed frustration that the governors have yet to set an initial meeting three months after a federal court ruling that threatens to cut off Atlanta’s access to its primary water source.
“They got to get to work,” said Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla.
Deal said the lawmakers have designated representatives from each state to facilitate future meetings between themselves.