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Georgia governor, corps differ over extent of water emergency

  • Story Highlights
  • Governor asks president to declare North Georgia a disaster area
  • Army Corps official denies there is a Lake Lanier water crisis
  • Army Corps releases millions of gallons daily from the lake
  • Georgia will seek injunction to stop water releases from reservoir
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LAKE LANIER, Georgia (CNN) -- Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a water supply emergency in north Georgia on Saturday as its water resources dwindled to a dangerously low level after months of drought.

But an Army Corps of Engineers official denied there is a water crisis.

Perdue, who signed an executive order Saturday, asked for President Bush's help in easing regulations that require the state to send water downstream to Alabama and Florida.

He also asked the president to declare 85 counties as federal disaster areas.

Perdue blasted what he called the "silly rules" governing the water supplies, noting that even if the state got replenishing rains, it could not by law conserve those, but must release 3.2 billion gallons a day downstream.

"The actions of the Corps of Engineers and Fish and Wildlife Service are not only irresponsible, I believe they're downright dangerous and Georgia cannot stand for this negligence," Perdue said.

The Army Corps of Engineers, however, presented a different assessment.

If there were nine months without rain, water supplies still would be adequate, said Maj. Daren Payne, the Army Corps' deputy commander for the Mobile, Alabama, District.

The corps sent a letter to Perdue assessing the situation and pointing out that they are "not going to run out [of water] any time soon," Payne said.

The corps -- under an agreement reached in the 1980s with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state and downstream users -- releases 5,000 feet of water per second from the dam between Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River.

The figure was based on a Florida hydroelectric power plant's needs, as well as concern for endangered species in the river, including mussels and sturgeon.

On Friday, Georgia filed a motion seeking to require the Army Corps of Engineers to restrict water flows from the lake and other north Georgia reservoirs. Video Watch Gov. Perdue blast a "disaster of federal bureaucracy" »

The corps said it needs 120 days to review its water policies, according to Perdue.

The Bush administration has been in contact with the Georgia congressional delegation on the matter, the White House said Saturday afternoon

"We have already begun drafting interim rules to ... address the endangered species requirements, and the Army Corps has started the process of revising the operations manual for the river basin," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Months of drought

Rainfall in north Georgia, which includes the Atlanta metropolitan area, is far below normal for this time of year.

That was evident as Perdue addressed reporters on packed red clay on the shore of Lake Lanier -- the main water source for the Atlanta area's 5 million residents.

Normally, he'd be standing in water, but levels have dropped to historically low levels. The drought is hurting businesses and scaring away tourists.

Efforts are under way to try to reduce the flow from Lake Lanier by looking into requirements for endangered species and demands downstream for power plants and industries, Payne said.

A new biological review of endangered species needs will end in November and will be examined by officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to see if water requirements can be reduced, he added.

"The corps is not opposed to reducing the flow, if it can do it legally," Payne said.

Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been wrangling over how to allocate water from the Chattahoochee watershed for years as metro Atlanta's population has doubled since 1980.

"No one is sacrificing, no one is sharing the pain like the people in north Georgia are," Perdue said, noting there are no water restrictions in Florida or southern Alabama.

Georgia has imposed a mandatory ban on outdoor water use by homeowners in the region, but Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle warned this is a situation "we cannot conserve our way out of."

Meanwhile, individual counties are monitoring illegal water use.

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In Douglas County, violators will have their water supply turned off and may have to pay up to $1,000 to get it turned back on.

Cobb County, just north of Atlanta, is doling out fines of up to $500 for repeat offenders. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Rusty Dornin and Tristan Smith contributed to this report.

All About GeorgiaU.S. Army Corps of EngineersEndangered SpeciesDrought

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