ATLANTA - Building new reservoirs in North Georgia could help resolve long-running water disputes with Alabama and Florida by making it possible to release enough water downstream into neighboring states during dry years, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday.
The Republican governor spoke about his recent reservoir plans while addressing members of the Georgia Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm lobbying organization.
"No industry or no area of our economy is more sensitive to the issue of water than ... agriculture because you depend on it for the vitality of your crops, for the necessity of producing the poultry and the livestock that we do in this state," Deal told the crowd.
After the speech, Deal told reporters that a negotiated settlement with Alabama and Florida will probably involve guaranteeing minimum water flows in rivers leading into those states. Having water stored in more reservoirs upstream would give officials the ability to supplement river flows during droughts.
Deal's budget proposal would earmark $46 million in borrowing for new reservoirs. That initial spending is part of the $300 million that Deal said Georgia should devote to reservoir development over the next four years.
The Republican said state funding is needed since local communities are often hampered by the upfront planning costs necessary to build a reservoir.
It's unclear how Deal's proposal will be received by his bargaining partners, who have argued that Georgia uses more than its fair share of the region's water. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has said that if Georgia keeps taking water from federal reservoirs - and takes more water from new reservoirs - conditions will get worse for downstream communities.
Representatives for Bentley and Florida Gov. Rick Scott did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Georgia is under pressure to strike a deal with Alabama and Florida. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled in 2009 that metropolitan Atlanta has little legal right to withdraw water from Lake Lanier, its main water source. Unless authorities in Georgia strike a deal with Alabama and Florida, the judge will restrict water withdrawals from Lake Lanier to levels last seen in the 1970s.
Leaders in Georgia are appealing Magnuson's ruling. Deal told the farmers it's unclear whether Georgia will succeed in overturning that order, although he recently said in another speech that he doubted the state would prevail.