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Tri-state water management group being explored
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Forsyth County News

A private group trying to positively influence a protracted water war is edging forward with plans for a possible “transboundary” water management institute.

The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders, meeting mostly in secret this week at Lanier Islands resort in South Hall, voted Wednesday during a public portion to accept a report by an academic group, The University Collaborative, that looks at options for the transboundary group.

Members hailed it as a step forward to dealing with water-sharing issues that have long plagued Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

“We are different and we will be different, but there is a core of processes, functions and information that is consistent among other (transboundary) institutions,” said Wilton Rooks, an ACFS member who serves as executive vice president of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association.

The institute also would need the endorsement of the three states before it proceeds.

“We can’t make them do anything,” said Jim McClatchey, chairman of the ACFS, which comprises members with various interests throughout the basin.

Laurie Fowler and Shannon Bonney of the University of Georgia presented a report on the institute, along with recommendations for possible ways to develop it.

Basically, the institute, which would serve, in part, to help resolve conflicts in the basin, could be created as an entity separate from the stakeholders, or the stakeholders could eventually morph into the organization.

“You already have a history of working well together,” Fowler said, speaking on the options. “You already have some momentum and you don’t particularly have a dog in the fight. It’s been your intent since the very beginning to represent all the interests (in the basin).”

The ACFS was founded five years ago to try to develop scientifically based solutions to water management in the basin, something the three states haven’t been able to do.

Instead, the states have tried to settle their differences in the courts.

In October 2013, the latest salvo in the dispute between the states, Florida petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to settle an issue over alleged “overconsumption of water” by Georgia. Florida says Georgia’s high usage is draining water in the Apalachicola Bay and hurting the oyster industry.

Georgia has said Florida’s suit “seeks to bypass” the Army Corps of Engineers’ work on a court-ordered water management manual for the basin.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether to accept the lawsuit.

The stakeholders group, meanwhile, has said it hopes to develop a Sustainable Water Management Plan and present water-sharing recommendations to the three states and the corps, which governs Lake Lanier.

Asked for an update on the progress of the plan, McClatchey said only, “It’s hard work. There are lots of conversations.

“I can’t even characterize it. When you have a situation where one group can stop it, you never know when you’re on the verge (of finishing the plan).”