from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Washington – Lawyers for Georgia, Florida and Alabama are gearing up again for battle, now that tri-state water negotiations have collapsed and the federal government says it will decide how to dole out water rights in the region.

At least eight lawsuits are pending involving the two-decade water feud, and state officials said they expect heavy activity in those cases this year.

At the same time, the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will soon issue a short-term water operations plan – a move that could set off a fresh wave of legal maneuvering.

“I expect that we will see progress on the cases in the courts,” said Todd Silliman, an attorney with McKenna Long & Aldridge representing Georgia. “There are schedules in place now for those claims to be litigated this year.”

After pledging last fall to reach a compromise, Govs. Sonny Perdue of Georgia, Charlie Crist of Florida and Bob Riley of Alabama broke off negotiations recently after months of talks mediated by Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

The states kept the talks secret by signing a confidentiality agreement, so it’s not clear where they broke down. Generally, Georgia says it needs more water from two major river basins, while Florida and Alabama say Georgia already takes too much and is crippling water flows downstream.

The next move could come from the federal government.

The corps has begun writing a new short-term plan to govern river operations during severe drought.

It would replace an existing arrangement – set to expire June 1 – that Kempthorne announced at the start of the governors’ talks in November, allowing Georgia to hold back more water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin that runs along the Alabama-Georgia border.

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