Ga senators file legislation aimed at fixing water woes

Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss on Thursday introduced legislation aimed at legalizing metro Atlanta's disputed withdrawals of drinking water from Lake Lanier.

Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled in July 2009 that metro Atlanta has no rights to water from Lake Lanier and gave Georgia three years to work out a water-sharing agreement with Florida and Alabama.

Isakson said they introduced their legislation just as he, Chambliss and the rest of Congress were leaving town Thursday until after the November elections in an effort to keep the issue relevant.

"We're leaving town for a month and didn't want the issue to lie dormant," said Isakson, who's running for re-election.

Observers and officials from other states immediately gave the legislation little chance of passage -- especially since the governors of the three states have been unable to come to any understanding on how to share water from Lake Lanier and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.

"It's dead on arrival," Alabama Republican Sen. Richard Shelby said through a spokesman.

Gil Rogers, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center in Atlanta, concurred.

"Since the governors have barely even met about this over the course of the year and now we're into election season, I'd be very surprised if this moves forward in the way it's been introduced," Rogers said.

With lawmakers expected to be busy with a host of other issues when they return for a lame-duck session in November and the makeup of Congress changing, Isakson acknowledged that the legislation isn't likely to get the full consideration of Congress anytime soon.

But, he added, he wanted to make sure legislation was in place if and when the governors of the three states do come to an agreement on water sharing.

"Ultimately we hope the governors will hopefully come to an agreement ... but in the meantime, we're going to do anything we can do," he said.

The legislation mirrors language that Isakson and Chambliss inserted into a still-pending federal water bill in May.

It would formally authorize both Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona for the municipal and industrial water supply. It also would allow cities and counties to get credit for water they return to the reservoirs against what they use from the reservoirs.

Sally Bethea, executive director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper advocacy group, said she's glad somebody is still involved in the region's most pressing water issue.

"It is good to see that our senators are paying attention to the fact that metro Atlanta is facing a very serious water supply deadline in less than two years; the candidates for governor seem to have a hard time focusing on it," she wrote in an e-mail interview.

"We hope Senators Chambliss and Isakson can explain to Georgia's next governor how important it is for metro Atlanta to stop its fruitless litigation and settle its needless disputes with its downstream neighbors," Bethea added.

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