The latest battle in Georgia’s long-running water war with its Alabama and Florida neighbors spilled into public view this week on Capitol Hill.
The in-the-weeds legislative sniping threatened the fate of legislation reauthorizing the nation’s water infrastructure programs, which congressional leaders are hoping to send to the president’s desk by the end of the week.
Alabama and Florida lawmakers bemoaned the final version of the water bill due to language authored by U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, that they said could favor Georgia in the decades-long dispute. They positioned themselves on multiple fronts to remove it.
“It makes it more difficult to ever solve this problem,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Wednesday of the provision, which passed the House as part of its water bill this summer but was not included in the Senate’s version. “They’re changing the law, current law, and the two senators from Florida and the two senators from Alabama are not going to let this happen.”
Woodall’s language would strike a provision signed into law in 2014 that directed Congress to craft legislation regarding water usage for the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers if the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida could not come to their own agreement.
Georgia’s delegation says Congress should have no role in the water dispute, which was recently argued before a Supreme Court-sanctioned special judge in Maine. The special master that the court appointed to oversee the case could issue a decision before Christmas.
“This is a state issue,” said U.S. Rep Doug Collins, R-Gainesville. Woodall’s amendment reverts Congress back to its pre-2014 position, he added, and lets the issue “take its turn through the courts system or better yet let the governors get together and solve this.”
The water dispute has flared up at several points on Capitol Hill in recent years. It’s one of the few issues that unites the entire Georgia delegation, both Democrats and Republicans.
The state’s lawmakers on Wednesday indicated they would fight to keep the language in place.
The water bill as it is written “is good for us,” Republican Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said. “We got done what we needed to get done.”
Georgia lawmakers fended off an attempt by a Florida Democrat to remove it Wednesday afternoon in the House Rules Committee, of which Collins and Woodall are members.
The House went on to pass the bill Thursday afternoon, but its fate in the Senate is unclear.
Alabama Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby threatened to put a hold on the bill to get leaders to strip Woodall’s provision.
“If somebody gets the edge — and Georgia’s looking for the edge right now — that would not be good for negotiations,” he said Wednesday.
Other flare-ups over aid for California’s drought, coal miners’ benefits and the poisoned water system in Flint, Mich., also raised questions about whether the Senate could pass the measure before Friday, when leaders hope to adjourn for the year.
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