ATLANTA - Federal officials must allow drought-stricken Georgia to slow the flow of water from its reservoirs or the state will face a severe water shortage that could affect millions of residents, the state's environmental commissioner warned in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Friday.
Gov. Sonny Perdue threatened legal action unless the corps agrees to the state's temporary fix by Oct. 17.
Perdue wants the corps to allow Georgia to curb the release of water from North Georgia's parched lakes so that the amount of water flowing downstream doesn't exceed that being taken in. The restrictions would stay in effect until March to give Georgia's reservoirs time to replenish themselves.
Currently, large amounts of Georgia water are sent downstream to neighboring Florida and Alabama. The drought has heightened tensions among the three states, which have been locked in an ongoing dispute over how to manage the region's limited water supply.
Florida has complained the state is not sending enough water downstream to protect endangered and threatened mussels on the banks of a drying river. And Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has urged the corps to release more water from Georgia's lakes to help his state cope with the dry conditions.
The corps manages the water usage between the states. It faced heavy criticism in June when it accidentally released 22 billion gallons of water from Lake Lanier, a major source of drinking water for the fast-growing Atlanta metropolitan area. The error came as the state was sinking into a drought.
Perdue on Friday encouraged the corps to embrace Georgia's proposed solution as a temporary fix.
'Today we are handing the Army Corps of Engineers a solution to an ongoing problem that has contributed to the most severe drought in Georgia history,' Perdue said.
The drought is so bad in Georgia that officials have taken the unprecedented step of banning outdoor watering throughout most of the state.
Carol Couch, director of Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, said there is no immediate relief in sight. Climatologists have predicted a dry winter, and it could take months of above-average rainfall to replenish the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin.
'Reservoir storage is falling to levels not seen in decades,' Couch wrote in a letter to Army Corps Commander Col. Byron James.
She said that if water continues to flow out of the lakes at the levels it is under the current operating plan 'there is serious risk that the reservoirs will be drained of all conservation storage.
'The Corps must take action now to avert this catastrophe,' she wrote.
Georgia officials rallied around Perdue's proposal on Friday. U.S. Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss along with Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson each praised the plan.