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Feds won't step in on water fight
Three states urged to find compromise over releases

ATLANTA - Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Wednesday the federal government won't try to broker a solution to a bitter three-state battle over water rights, but he urged Georgia, Alabama and Florida to seek a compromise outside of the courtroom.

'At the end of the day, the three states have got to come together and have got to figure out a way forward with a compact agreement between the three states,' Salazar said shortly after taking a helicopter tour of north Georgia's reservoirs with Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The approach is in contrast to that of previous Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who convened meetings between the three states at the height of a severe drought in the region in late 2007. The governors broke off the negotiations last year after saying they could not resolve the complex battle that began almost 20 years ago. There have been no formal talks since.

Perdue pressed Georgia's case in the fight with Salazar during a two-hour aerial tour of Lake Lanier, the primary reservoir for Gwinnett County and metro Atlanta.

Lake Lanier is still more than five feet below full pool despite higher than normal rainfall the past few months that has pulled the region out of a three-year drought.

Georgia wants policies to keep more water in the reservoir, which is the main water supply for metro Atlanta. The other states want more water released downstream during times of drought.

While severe drought conditions have largely subsided across the region, the litigation hasn't. A federal judge in Florida heard arguments earlier this month by lawyers for Alabama and Florida, who are challenging how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parcels out water from north Georgia reservoirs among the three states.

Perdue said Wednesday he'd prefer an agreement with his counterparts to a continued court battle.

'Ultimately, one litigation leads to another litigation to another appeal,' Perdue said. 'The ultimate solution is a mutual agreement among the three affected states.'