Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was emphatic today that he had not sold out Columbus and other middle-Chattahoochee River interests in favor of Metro Atlanta in the ongoing tri-state water dispute.
“I have never, nor will I ever, agree to any deal giving the middle Chattahoochee less water than it needs,” Perdue said. “Folks, that would be a dumb deal. There is no way any governor ought to trade one area over another.”
Perdue laid out his case for state unity during a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation his office arranged this morning at Columbus Technical College. About 200 stakeholders, including those with political, business, environmental and public-utility interests in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, attended the briefing.
A similar meeting will be held Thursday morning in Albany.
Perdue’s plea for unity has added urgency because U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled last month that without Congressional approval, Georgia cannot continue to draw water from Lake Lanier, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir. That ruling could cut off the water supply for about 3 million people in Metro Atlanta.
Perdue was in Columbus to have what he called a “family discussion.” That conversation comes as Magnuson’s ruling weakens Georgia’s position in the nearly two-decade water battle with Alabama and Florida.
“That case has determined something has got to be done in the next three years,” said retired Columbus Water Works President Billy Turner. “It has set a specific deadline in which a resolution has to be reached that will hopefully allow Atlanta to live and the rest of us to live.”
Perdue made his case amid much distrust from those downstream from Metro Atlanta.
“There is a huge trust issue with Metro Atlanta,” said Georgia Rep. Debbie Bucker, D-Junction City. “Even though we can’t have guarantees on flows, we need some reassurance in our community that we are members of the family.”
Perdue replied that Buckner was “absolutely correct” in calling it a trust issue.
“We can continue to work on that,” he said. “...There are a lot of sins of the past. There needs to be adults in the crowd to lead communities to have better trust.”
Perdue said Georgians must stand together against Florida and Alabama.
To illustrate his point about the dangers of Georgians fighting each other over the river system, Perdue used an analogy of what a parent does when two siblings squabble over the same object: The parent simply takes the object away from both of them.
“There are people who want to take it away from both of us,” he said.
“Florida wants unreasonable flows, even during a drought,” Perdue said. “They want natural flows when it is sufficient, but when natual flows are insufficient, they want it subsidized.”
Then he cut to the chase: “A guaranteed flow in Florida does not mean a guaranteed flow in Columbus,” he said.
He took Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Florida Gov. Charile Crist to task for not agreeing to resume negotiations.
“They said they have accepted our invitations,” Perdue said. “I haven’t heard squat.”
He repeated his call for Riley to agree to lift a confidentiality agreement related to the negotiations.
“Pull back the sheets and let the public see what we were talking about,” Perdue said.
The governor then addressed Turner, who has been involved in Chattahoochee water issues for more than 20 years. Turner was the driving force behind a federal suit the Columbus Water Works and the city of Columbus filed two years ago against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, seeking certain river flows in this region.
“Billy, I wish you could have been in these confidential meetings to see we have been on Columbus’ side,” Perdue said.