Perdue invites governors to water talks

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ATLANTA --- Facing a deadline to broker a water deal with its neighbors, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue on Thursday invited the leaders of Alabama and Florida to a summit in Atlanta to talk about it.

Mr. Perdue sent a letter to Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist offering 40 possible dates between Aug. 12 and Nov. 5 for the three leaders to try to settle the regional tug-of-war over federal water rights.

It's the latest round in the gamesmanship among the governors after a federal judge's ruling earlier this month found Georgia had few rights to Lake Lanier, the massive federal reservoir that supplies most of metro Atlanta's water.

The judge set a three-year deadline for Congress to approve a settlement. If not, withdrawals from the north Georgia lake could be cut to the levels they were at in the 1970s, when Atlanta was a fraction of its size.

The deadline has sent Georgia officials scrambling to search for a solution. Mr. Perdue has argued the legal fight is a national issue, but he sought again to broker a compromise with the neighboring states as a framework for a deal.

"Water issues have dominated the headlines in recent days, and I have read statements from both of you that indicate your willingness to resume water negotiations," Mr. Perdue wrote.

He added: "I have always believed that a negotiated settlement that protects the rights and resources of all three states is the most lasting solution."

Mr. Crist's office said late Thursday it was reviewing the request.

Mr. Riley said he is pleased and accepts the invitation.

"I look forward to scheduling a meeting as soon as possible," he said.

The three states have been fighting for 20 years over rivers they share. Georgia wants to hold more water back in federal reservoirs such as Lake Lanier to use as drinking water for the fast-growing Atlanta region.

Florida and Alabama say they need strong river flows to sustain their own drinking water needs, fisheries, industrial users and power plants -- including an Alabama Power nuclear plant.


Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has warned utility giant Southern Co. to stay out of the tri-state water war.

He sent a letter to company CEO David Ratcliffe on Wednesday saying he was surprised to learn that the head of Southern subsidiary Georgia Power was leading a Georgia "impact team" formed by Gov. Sonny Perdue to work on the state's strategy in the dispute, including lobbying Congress.

Mr. Riley said having Georgia Power align with Georgia's interests is "counterproductive."

Southern Co. owns Georgia Power, Alabama Power and northwest Florida's Gulf Power. The utilities are among the region's largest water users. Spokeswoman Valerie Holpp said Southern Co. had no comment.

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