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Tuesday June 30th, 2015 12:45PM

EPD Chief says next chapter in water war could unfold by Oct.

By B.J. Williams News Director
GAINESVILLE - Georgia's Environmental Protection Division Director was in Gainesville Thursday, telling local business leaders that while the water war is not completely over, the state has won a number of battles recently.

Jud Turner was in Gainesville to speak to the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors at their monthly meeting.

Turner told the group that most litigation over the water in the Apalachicola -Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin has been resolved, but the federal lawsuit filed by Florida against Georgia is still awaiting a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. Turner said justices are awaiting a decision from the U.S. Solicitor General on whether they should even hear the case.

In the suit, Florida claims that Georgia has unfairly withheld water from the Chattahoochee River and the Apalachicola Bay has suffered, specifically causing damage to Florida's oyster industry.

Turner said if the Solicitor General decides the case has merit, the high court could hear it as early as October.

"If we end up with a case that goes to the Supreme Court on the merits, it could take four, five, six, seven, eight more years," said Turner.

What's important to water usage right now, though, said Turner is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' drafting of new water control manuals. He said if water control manuals had been properly written in the first place, then the fighting over water rights might never have happened.

"What we should have done for the past 30 years is update these data sets and water control manuals and then decide how much water is available for people for drinking water," said Turner.

Those new manuals should be ready by the summer of 2015 if the Corps completes the process as promised.

"They were on a three-year commitment, so that's next year," said Turner.

Turner also noted that water supply is substantial now, so that may keep water needs from being top-of-mind for the public.

"It helps that it's raining right now," said Turner. "Frankly, they're getting inundated with water in Apalachicola Bay right now."

Still, he said, the EPD can't put water issues on the back burner.

"You've always gotta work when it's raining to be prepared from when it's not."




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