Riley, Water Wars Go to Washington, D.C.

The war over water is at the highest level.

Governor Bob Riley is in Washington, preparing for for a key meeting with the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, along with Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and Florida Governor Charlie Crist.

The governors will also sit down with the Army Corps of Engineers and a White House environmental counselor at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning.

The idea is to hammer out an emergency drought management plan.

But as WSFA 12 News Reporter Chris Holmes discovered, any potential plan faces some uphill battles and a lot of outside critics.

As Governor Riley prepared for Wednesday night's two hour flight to the nation's capital, Alabama's position stood as plainly as its parched countryside.

'We're willing to take our fair share of the pain, but we will not accept all of it," he said.

Riley and other Alabamians say Georgia is late to the water conservation party, pointing out some Atlanta suburbs never went to a restriction plan until late in summer.

State lawyers discovered the Corps of Engineers actually allowed some Georgia cities to withdraw much more water from federal reservoirs than they contracted for.

"They're pumping 200 to 250 percent more from Lake Allatoona than they should be," Riley said.

Alabama and Florida got some unexpected help Wednesday when the Georgia based Southern Environmental Law Center criticized its home government for mismanaging the explosive growth in Atlanta, calling it 'develop first and ask questions later.'

"All of a sudden, they've gone from a million to four million people, where do you draw the line?" Riley asked.  "Do you say we can go to 10, 15, 20 million until you dry up all the water before we determine how much Alabama is going to get. That's not acceptable."

But the reality is the three states have haggled over water for seventeen years, filed multiple lawsuits, and through all that, no one has hammered out a plan.

So, to expect anything to come of a three hour meeting might stretch things.

"I'm not saying we can't come up with an agreement, but we should be able to," Riley said.

Alabama itself didn't escape criticisms from environmentalists.

The Natural Resources Defense Council warned the state has also not planned its widespread industrial expansion well enough.

Surprisingly, Riley said Alabama needs to do a better job in that area.

And in the coming weeks, he plans to ask our state scientists to come up with their own drought management and development plans.

Riley, the other governors and the Secretary of the Interior are expected to outline any new drought management at a news conference early tomorrow afternoon.

Riley says he hopes the governors can at least come up with a framework for a plan during this Washington trip.

Earlier Wednesday, Riley wrote President Bush asking the president to include Alabama farmers suffering from the drought in any supplemental appropriation bill.