Fed Biologists Agree to Plan to Reduce Flow from Lake Lanier

ATLANTA (AP) - The Army Corps of Engineers rolled out a plan Friday that allows Georgia to keep more of its water after federal biologists signed off on a plan to reduce the flow of water downstream from north Georgia's Lake Lanier.

Meanwhile in Washington, a panel of federal appeals court judges skeptically questioned whether the Corps, which manages regional water resources, even has the authority to allocate the lake for water supply instead of for its original purpose -- producing hydropower.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that federally protected mussels can live with less of the water from Lanier signaled an immediate change in Corps water policy.

The Corps immediately reduced the flow of water from Lanier to Florida from 5,000 cubic feet per second to 4,750 cubic feet per second. The flows from the drying lake could be reduced to as low as 4,150 cubic feet per second depending on lake levels.

Corps Brigadier General Joseph Schroedel said, "We feel like we've got the most flexible system to meet the needs, from the headwaters of Lake Lanier down to Apalachicola Bay."

The 78-page Fish and Wildlife report, released today, concludes that the change in plans is not likely to jeopardize the species or endanger critical habitat. But it does say the order will likely result in the incidental death or injury -- called "take" -- of some of the mussels. The report includes suggested measures that could minimize the loss.

The decision could set off another round of legal challenges by Florida, which argues reducing the flows downstream could endanger the state's fishing economy. But federal officials said the states have promised to collaborate on a long-term water pact.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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