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Governors pledge to speed up talks on sharing water during drought
A water-conservation measure that fishermen said would devastate the Florida Panhandle's oyster industry has been put on hold, the governors of three drought-stricken Southeastern states said Monday, Dec. 17, as they pledged to speed up talks on sharing water during scarcities, the Associated Press reported.
The Bush administration last month had brokered a plan to reduce flows into Apalachicola River, which feeds a major oyster breeding ground in Florida. The short-term effort to boost Atlanta's drinking supply drew opposition from oystermen and environmentalists who said it would further damage species that have already been hard hit by one of the region's worst droughts in years.
The three governors—Charlie Crist (Fla.), Sonny Perdue (Ga.) and Bob Riley (Ala.)—and the federal government agreed not to reduce, for now, the minimum amount of water that will flow into the Apalachicola Bay.
The governors also agreed that their staffs would continue to work together to come up with a plan for doling out the region's water by March 15, faster than had been expected. The interim agreement on flow levels had been set to expire June 1, according to the Associated Press.
The news was good for oystermen along the Panhandle Gulf Coast, who had feared they would be stuck with spring flows too low to sustain the spawning season. Apalachicola Bay produces about 10% of the nations' oysters.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, who also participated, said he was pleased the governors have agreed to try to end the states' nearly two decades of disagreement on sharing water as early as this spring. One of the worst droughts in years in the Southeast has created a sense of urgency, all three governors acknowledged.
The fast-growing Atlanta area gets most of its water from Lake Lanier, at the head of the river basin shared by the states. Drawing more water from the lake would mean less for downstream uses in Florida and in Alabama, where the water is used by a nuclear plant.
In early December, authorities said there was less than four months of available water left in Lake Lanier. Perdue said recent reductions in flow that Florida opposed have aided in raising the lake's level.
Gov. Crist hinted that Georgia might need to increase its conservation, noting that Florida has made moves to cut use since the drought began.
The meeting also follows a major agreement signed in mid-December that will allow seven Western states to conserve and share Colorado River water, ending a discordant battle among those states.