TALLAHASSEE — A federal proposal that would let Georgia keep more water during droughts instead of letting it eventually flow into Apalachicola Bay means Florida would be bearing the brunt of problems created in dry times, Gov. Charlie Crist said Friday.
Florida has been quiet since the Army Corps of Engineers announced a proposal Tuesday that would allow greater storage in upstream lakes and lower river flows into Florida. But in a statement Friday, Crist said, "We will continue to pursue all opportunities to ensure protection for Florida's environment, economy and quality of life."
Florida, Alabama and Georgia have fought for nearly two decades over water rights in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basins.
Georgia wants to hold back more water in reservoirs to serve its growing population. Florida and Alabama argue Georgia hasn't adequately planned for growth. They say lowering the water flow would be bad for the environment as well as small cities, power plants, industries and fisheries that rely on the rivers.
In Florida, biologists and oystermen say Apalachicola Bay needs the right mix of salty gulf water and fresh river water for oysters to thrive. The area produces about 90 percent of the state's oysters.
"We recognize that in times of drought, impacts will be felt throughout the river system. However, this proposal again leaves Florida's ecosystem and residents bearing the brunt of harmful conditions, rather than a shared adversity between our neighbors," Crist said.
The new plan comes after settlement negotiations among the governors of Florida, Georgia and Alabama broke down in February, prompting Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to say the federal government would impose its own solution.
In times of extreme drought, the plan would continue a temporary provision allowing river flows to dip below the current minimum of 5,000 cubic feet per second at the Jim Woodruff Dam, near the Florida border. Under particularly wet conditions, it also allows for reservoirs such as Lake Lanier, north of Atlanta, to keep up to 50 percent of their inflow instead of the current maximum of 30 percent.
The plan is to be finalized by June 1.