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Florida Gov. Charlie Crist urges Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to work for solution to tri-state water war

WaterWebster.org Staff Report

May 29, 2009

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Florida Gov. Charlie Crist told Interior Secretary Ken Salazar it is "imperative" that a long-term solution be found to end the water sharing conflict between Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

"As you are aware, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the Federal Agencies continue to be embroiled in lawsuits and controversy over the management of the reservoirs on the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint River systems," Crist wrote in a May 28 letter to Salazar. "This is a tri-state problem which requires a tri-state solution."

Salazar was in Georgia and Florida this week and met with Crist and Georgia Gov. Sony Perdue, in part to discuss the water sharing conflict. While he was in Georgia, according to the Gainsville Times, he told Perdue he was willing to help facilitate an agreement between Georgia, Florida and Alabama in their dispute over who has the rights to water from rivers and lakes that are important to all three states. Perdue told reporters he agreed it was better to try to find a solution to water allocations than to continually fight in court.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Salazar told a news conference “I do not see us (federal officials) as coming in and hammering heads and getting the deal done.” Perdue, according to both news organizations, was hopeful a solution to the 20-year-old conflict could be found outside of the courts.

Salazar's predecessor, former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne announced March 1 that negotiations he initiated with Georgia, Florida and Alabama over water sharing issues failed.

Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson, sitting in Jacksonville, Fla., is expected to rule later this year on water withdrawals from Lake Lanier. During the drought, the lake was at the center of arguments among the three states over water rights and whether priority should be given to Atlanta's drinking water needs or to the requirements of downstream users.

In his letter to Salazar, Crist wrote "it is essential that the Department of Interior engage in meaningful and independent participation as the three states look to an equitable sharing of this precious resource."

Crist said the three-year drought that ended earlier this year, had a serious impact not only on Georgia, where the river systems have their origins, but downstream on endangered species and on the families of oystermen, whose livlihoods were threatened.

"To avoid these impacts and the challenges being faced by Florida, Georgia and Alabama, it is imperative that we work toward a long-term solution or else we will find ourselves facing a crisis every year," Crist wrote. "Florida recognizes a solution must include equitable sharing of adversity."

Salazar was asked about the three-state water sharing issues during a meeting Thursday with the Editorial Board of the Miami Herald. A video of the meeting was posted on the Herald's web site.

"There's a lot of money being spent on lawyers and engineers and there's better investments the government could be making with that money if we can come to agreement between the states," Salazar told the Editorial Board.

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Download a pdf of Crist's letter to Salazar

©2009 WaterWebster.org

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