Lawsuit, water control manual updates
By Jane Harrison
Florida legislators’ actions going nowhere, congressman says
A U.S. Court official’s conclusion that limiting Georgia’s water use would not increase the flow into Florida did not stint the legal wrangling between the states over water in the river system shared by each. As attorneys ponder potential exceptions to Special Master Ralph Lancaster’s ruling, Florida’s congressional representatives dove into the water war.
Georgia 9th District U.S. Representative Doug Collins said those congressional maneuvers don’t have legs. Collins, whose district includes Lake Lanier, the largest reservoir on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, believes Georgians need not get worked up about moves by Fla. Rep. Neal Dunn and Sen. Marco Rubio to get Congress involved.
Efforts by the Floridians seeking congressional action to intercept the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed water control manual for the Corps dams on the rivers face “serious opposition,” Collins said. The legislative proposals would effect water policies in other parts of the country and almost certainly would not get enough votes to pass, he said.
He added he believes Dunn crafted his Congressional Review Act resolution because his district wanted him to put up a response to the Special Master’s decision and the Corps proposed water control manual. Dunn’s proposal asks Congress to halt the Corps from implementing a “flawed document” that he labeled unfair to the Apalachicola region. “The water wars need to be solved by the states,” Collins said.
Rather than “being worried about shadows appearing everywhere” Georgians should bask in recent water related developments, he added, referring to the Special Master’s report and the proposed water control manual, which grants Georgia all the water it requested. Georgia has done “some really good stuff,” he said.
However, the Special Master’s report did not render Georgia completely saintly. Lancaster cited evidence that Georgia allowed farmers largely unrestricted irrigation on the Flint River and noted that litigation spurred conservation efforts in metropolitan Atlanta.
Collins said that Ga. Gov. Nathan Deal has been pro-active with conservation measures, especially in regard to the Flint River. During the final weeks of the hearing before the Special Master, Deal initiated a task force on irrigation permits to get the house in order.
The Supreme Court appointee concluded that Florida did not prove that imposing a cap on Georgia’s water use would release additional stream flow into Florida. He indicated that regardless of what Georgia does upstream, the Corps controls the volume of flow. Florida’s failure to target the Corps in its 2013 lawsuit hurt its strategy and resulted in Lancaster denying Florida’s pleas.
“The Special Master made a good decision,” Collins said. He urged Lake Lanier area constituents to “focus on positive aspects” and to put their energy into removing rotting docks, abandoned vessels and conservation.
Supreme Court justices received the Special Master’s report last month, filed orders, and on March 20 gave states 45 days to file objections with supporting briefs. Justices often concur with Special Masters’ recommendations and occasionally include exceptions if states offer sufficient evidence to do so. Another round of replies and sur-replies might follow potential objections, prolonging the fight and adding to the near $40 million price tag each state has tallied up.
Some Florida river advocates have complained that money the state has invested in the lawsuit could have been better spent improving the ecological infrastructure to sustain oyster fisheries in Apalachicola Bay.
Proposed water control manual ‘going through channels’ toward signing
Neither a federal court report nor threatened congressional action is thwarting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from finalizing its plans to impose a water plan that sticks in Florida’s craw and greases Georgia’s economic gears.
The Water Control Manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin “is not delayed but is going through the channels” said Lisa Hunter, Corps Chief of Public Affairs, Mobile District. She added the proposed water plan is still undergoing review. No schedule has been determined for finalization or signing by the Secretary of the Army.
The proposed WCM, made public in December, reaped praise from Georgia officials and provoked claims of unfairness from Floridians. It basically grants Georgia all the water it requested from the shared river system through 2030 while not promising hope for an Apalachicola region whose cries for more fresh water led the state to sue Georgia.
Florida’s 2013 lawsuit targeted Georgia but not the Corps, which operates five dams on the river system as prescribed in its WCM. Florida’s failure to take aim at the Corps and its proposed WCM contributed largely to its loss in court. But, the state’s federal congressional representatives are taking up the fight to halt the proposed WCM, which they label a flawed document that threatens to dry up Apalachicola’s oyster-based economy.
Hunter said the Corps could not comment on the pending Congressional Review Act resolution or other legislative maneuvering by Florida officials. The Corps received letters from Florida’s U.S. Congressmen and is responding to them, she said. Asked about the Corps’ reaction to Florida’s accusations, she responded, “The Corps used the best data and science available and followed all applicable laws, regulations and policies in developing the manual.” She added that data included research from outside agencies, such as U.S. Fish and & Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in addition to public comments.
“Under the (proposed WCM the Corps) would continue to operate the ACF as a system in a balanced manner to achieve all the authorized project purposes,” Corps Spokesman E. Patrick Robbins said after the document’s release in December. The manual was updated for the first time since 1989.
The public comment period for the WCM was extended from Jan. 14 to Feb. 1 after federal, state and interests groups requested for more time to review it. The Corps had originally predicted the WCM would be implemented in late fall 2015 when it began the updating process after years of delays from lawsuits.
Posted online 3/31/17