|Feds won't step in on southern water disputes|
|Written by Marjorie Holt|
|Thursday, May 28 2009|
Feds won't step in on southern water disputes
The Associated Press
ATLANTA — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday the federal government won't try to broker a solution to a bitter three-state battle over water rights, but he urged Georgia, Alabama and Florida to seek a compromise outside of the courtroom.
"At the end of the day, the three states have got to come together and have got to figure out a way forward with a compact agreement between the three states," Salazar said shortly after taking a helicopter tour of north Georgia's reservoirs with Gov. Sonny Perdue.
The approach is in contrast to that of previous Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who convened meetings between the three states at the height of a severe drought in the region in late 2007. The governors broke off the negotiations last year after saying they could not resolve the complex battle that began almost 20 years ago. There have been no formal talks since.
And while severe drought conditions have largely subsided across the region, the litigation hasn't. A federal judge in Florida heard arguments earlier this month by lawyers for Alabama and Florida, who are challenging how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parcels out water from north Georgia reservoirs among the three states.
Perdue said Wednesday he'd prefer an agreement with his counterparts to a continued court battle.
"Ultimately, one litigation leads to another litigation to another appeal," Perdue said. "The ultimate solution is a mutual agreement among the three affected states."
Messages seeking comment weren't immediately returned by the offices of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. All three men are Republicans.
The fast-growing Atlanta region relies on the lakes for drinking water, while Florida and Alabama depend on healthy flows downstream for commercial fisheries, farms, industrial users and cities. The corps also is required to release adequate flows to ensure the survival of endangered species downstream.
The dispute began in the early 1990s and intensified during the historic drought that withered crops and sent water levels plummeting in the lake that supply Atlanta with most of its water.
Salazar, a former Colorado attorney general who helped hash out an agreement to a lengthy water fight between Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, said drawn-out litigation over water rights usually leaves all sides upset. But he said it will be up to the states to broker a deal.
"I do not see us as playing the role of coming in and hammering heads, trying to get the deal done," he said. "It really is something that has to come from the three respective states, and if we can play a facilitating role in that, we will be happy to help."
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