Research by U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson's staff shows that nearly 80 federal reservoirs managed by the Corps of Engineers in 27 states and Puerto Rico "are being used for water supply even though they are not specifically authorized for that purpose," the senator's press secretary told me. Isakson's staff is working to verify the total.
The authorization issue is the crux of a federal judge's ruling that supplying water from Lake Lanier for most of metro Atlanta "is not an authorized purpose."
The purposes approved by Congress were limited to flood control, navigation and hydroelectric power, said the judge, who set a three-year deadline for the three states and Congress to work out a water use plan. Otherwise, withdrawals revert to 1975 levels.
Gov. Sonny Perdue is marshaling his forces to fight the battle in Congress. He met Monday with most of the state's congressional delegation, including Democratic Reps. John Lewis, David Scott and Hank Johnson of metro Atlanta, and Republican Sens. Isakson and Chambliss, and Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta.
If it turns out that one-half or more of the other states are in the same unauthorized water use situation as Georgia, it could be a way to put pressure on the other states to support legislation authorizing water withdrawals or face lawsuits like Georgia has.
That would change the current equation of Georgia being outnumbered badly in congressional votes by Alabama and Florida.
This national strategy could assure Georgia a reasonable share of water from Lake Lanier. It might be a long shot, but Perdue and the congressional delegation have to follow every avenue offering a chance of success. Thus, the governor plans to appeal the court decision and to resume tri-state negotiations.
The water war is heating up on a second front - the battle over Lake Allatoona and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basin.
A federal judge in Birmingham is expected to set a timetable next week for hearing Alabama's lawsuit charging, among other things, that Cobb County takes too much water from Allatoona. The city-county water authority now draws an average 34.5 million gallons per day from the lake.
Meanwhile, Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama has responded to Gov. Perdue's invitation to negotiate by offering 20 dates for a possible tri-state meeting.
Next Perdue has to get Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida to pick some dates so the three Republican governors can sit down at the negotiating table before the end of this year. Unfortunately, as previously observed here, Georgia's bargaining power is slim to none in view of the court ruling and the advantage the other states hold in congressional votes.
That's why a national strategy must be a priority. Otherwise, Georgia is at the mercy of Alabama, Florida and federal judges.