Alabama Challenges Feds on New Water Rules

     (CN) – A pair of federal lawsuits filed in the District of Columbia last week claim that a new water control manual approved by the U.S. Corps of Engineers threatens Alabama interests in an important river basin within the state.
     Both suits, which were filed May 7 are asking the court to set aside the Corps of Engineers’ adoption of a revised water control manual that defines operational guidelines for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River Basin.
     The manual also includes guidelines for operating the dam and reservoir at Lake Allatoona in Northwest Georgia.
     The first of the two lawsuits was filed by the State of Alabama; the other was filed by Alabama Power Co.
     Other named defendants include John McHugh, Jo-Ellen Darcy, Thomas Bostick, C. David Turner and Jon Chytka, each of whom is named in their official capacities.
     According to the state, the new manual, which was adopted May 4, failed to adequately address “the expressed concerns of Alabama and numerous other commenters.”
     The state claims the manual “goes beyond the congressionally authorized purposes of the Allatoona Project and is contrary to law in numerous ways.”
     It says the new guidelines “will allow the Corps to operate the Allatoona Project and other ACT River Basin projects in an arbitrary and capricious manner that will reduce the quantity of flows into Alabama, change the timing of flows into Alabama, and reduce the quality of water that flows into Alabama.”
     The Allatoona Project is located in Georgia on the Etowah River, which merges with another river to form the Coosa River. The Coosa then “joins the Tallapoosa River to form the Alabama River in the middle part of Alabama.” Those three rivers, along with their tributaries and drainage areas, comprise the ACT River Basin.
     One of the specific changes in the manual allows for a “modified drawdown” at Allatoona during the fall. The Corps previously was allowed to release water to serve the ACT River Basin during this time, but the new plan “calls for the Corps to suspend this process during that 45-day period.”
     Other problems cited by the state include changes to the Corps’ hydropower creation requirements and a lack of regard for Allatoona’s navigational purposes.
     “Inflow in the Coosa River and downstream in Alabama is critical for navigation, one of the three statutory purposes for which the Allatoona Project was created,” the complaint says. “Yet the WCM abandons, without Congressional approval, navigation as an operating purpose for the Allatoona Project.”
     In a related press release, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley expanded on the state’s interests in the region.
     “The flow of water through the ACT Basin is vital to the economy and environment of Alabama,” Bentley said. “Our State has protected the historical water flow through the ACT Basin for decades. I filed this challenge because we believe the manual is illegal and unfair.”
     In its complaint, Alabama Power also cites issues concerning hydropower generation at its various downstream projects, which would be impacted by reduced water flow.
     Representatives of the Army Corps did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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