Friday, October 17, 2008

Isakson, Chambliss: Obama’s Comments Reflect Fundamental Lack of Understanding of Tri-State Water Issues

U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., today sent a letter to Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., expressing their disappointment with comments he made on Oct. 16, 2008, regarding water allocation issues in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basins.

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Senator Obama:

We are writing to express our disappointment with comments made yesterday by you and your campaign relating to water allocation issues in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River basins. As you may know, these river basins serve Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. While we appreciate your recent and sudden interest in the tri-state water issues we have been working on for the past six years, the comments by you and your campaign reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of the problems in the ACF and ACT basins, a lack of understanding of the requirements of the Army Corps of Engineers with regards to the ACF and ACT basins under federal law, and a cavalier disregard for the needs of the residents of Georgia.

According to your campaign’s statement, you “would direct the National Research Council (NRC) to conduct a study to assess the water availability, supply options, and demand-management alternatives that factor into ACF River System usage, as well as the impact of freshwater flow on the ecology of the Apalachicola River and Bay.” You also said “As President, I will make protecting Florida’s water resources a priority.”

As you may know, the Army Corps of Engineers is required under federal law to update the water control manuals for the ACF and ACT basins, and recently announced it would begin doing so in the ACT basin. We were pleased to hear from Secretary of the Army Pete Geren personally that the Corps is moving forward with updating these manuals, because it will allow the Corps to make smarter decisions in their management of these river systems. We have underscored to him how important this action is. As you also may know such an update would include studies to assess water supply and demand, and environmental management practices for ALL the users and stakeholder in the basins, not just those on the Apalachicola River and Bay. To ask the Corps to ignore its responsibilities under federal law in favor of the residents of Florida is a clear affront to the residents of Georgia. To state that you will make protecting Florida’s water resources a priority over Georgia’s shows that you do not care about the needs of the people of Georgia.

We have continually worked to get Georgia, Florida and Alabama together and to force the Corp of Engineers to update a 20-year-old Water Control Plan for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basins. In 2006 we held Senate hearings in Gainesville and Columbus to implore the Corps to keep its commitment to update its outdated water control plan for the two river basins.

On August 1, 2007, we met with Secretary Geren as well as Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works John Paul Woodley, Lieutenant General Robert L. Van Antwerp and General Counsel Craig Schmauder. At the meeting, Secretary Geren indicated his desire to give mediation time to work before starting the update of the water control manuals.

When Secretary Geren gave his commitment to us that if and when mediation broke down and was not making progress, he would begin the update of the water control manuals, we held him to that promise. On September 28, 2007, after judges involved in the mediation announced that the talks had broken down, we sent a letter to Secretary Geren strongly urging him to honor his pledge to update the water control plan.

On October 18, 2007, Secretary Woodley told both of us by telephone that the Corps will start the process for updating the water control manual for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin.

We also facilitated meetings in Washington between the Governors of Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, as well as meetings between the Governors and the Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, and Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Jim Connaughton. We continue to work with the Governors and their staffs to come to a solution so the states can take advantage of the productive talks they have had and agree on a resolution.

From Lake Lanier to Lake Allatoona, from Atlanta to West Point Lake, and from LaGrange to Columbus, we have worked to find a solution that benefits not only the people of our state, but all those who reside in the river basins. It is unfortunate that you wish to undo the good work we have done to find a solution for all the people in the river basin and instead prioritize the needs of only the people of Florida.

Saxby Chambliss Johnny Isakson
United States Senator United States Senator

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