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EPD director joins criticism of Corps

DULUTH - A day after the state's two U.S. senators blasted the Army Corps of Engineers for its management of Lake Lanier, the director of Georgia's Environmental Protection Division joined the chorus, condemning the Corps for releasing billions of gallons of water downstream.

"It continues to show how shallow and irresponsible the Corps operation is," state EPD Director Carol Couch said. "They're exposing the vulnerabilities of one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country."

Speaking at a Council for Quality Growth meeting at the Gwinnett Marriott on Wednesday, Couch said Alabama and Florida - the two states that are in the midst of so-called water wars with Georgia - are not harmed by the state's use of water from Lake Lanier.

But a 50-year-old Corps plan is outdated and in need of improvement, she said.

The first phase of a statewide water plan is due next July said Kevin Green, the vice president of Environmental Affairs for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Green was a member of a panel discussion on regional water issues, along with Couch and Julie Mayfield of the Georgia Conservancy.

Couch said she had no question that North Georgia would need more water storage in the coming years to survive. She suggested inter-basin transfers, or moving water from one source to another, as a method of keeping the region hydrated.

Governments in areas that would be donor basins are scared that sending water to the Atlanta region will chill their own growth, she said, but that fear is unfounded.

"The state as a whole is an integrated economic engine," she said. "It's a tool. It's a question of where are we going to use it and in what circumstances."

Mayfield said all three states could avoid some of their issues by doing a better job of conserving water. She likened water conservation to seat belt laws, saying that while putting on a seat belt is routine now, people were resistant to seat belts when they were first required.

"We've got to have a tremendous sense of urgency about this," Mayfield said. "We just have to change our habits."

Couch said Florida's concern, that endangered mussels and sturgeon need more water than is being released by the Corps currently to survive, is untrue. The flow to that area can be as much as twice what it would be without the existence of reservoirs, she said.

Couch advocated that scientific research be done to determine what the flow should be.

Alabama, she said, has more in common with Georgia than people think.

Green said many people believe water flow lessens as more water is taken from rivers downstream, but in truth, the flow is increased as rivers widen. He said the Atlanta area uses just 10 percent of the state's water, despite having about half of Georgia's residents, and that 80 percent of that water is returned to rivers to flow downstream.

The recent focus on water issues has been exacerbated by the area's stage one drought conditions and the Corps' erroneous release of 22 billion gallons of water from Lake Lanier, he said.

Couch said the state is not averse to Florida and Alabama's reasons for wanting more water, but she believes forward progress is a possibility once the states actively seek solutions together.

"It's very hard while waging war to negotiate peace in good faith," she said.