By Carolyn Crist, Gainesville Times

Gov. Nathan Deal continues to negotiate with Alabama and Florida over the decadeslong water wars, and Gainesville and Brenau University officials are hosting a panel discussion today on recent updates.

“The issue is important to all of us, and there seems to be a lot of interest in what’s happening,” said Kelly Randall, director of Gainesville’s public utilities department.

The panel discussion falls on World Water Day, which the United Nations created in 1992 to focus on different global water issues each year. This year’s theme is water for cities.

Earlier this month, judges from the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals heard testimony about the tri-state water wars.

Georgia is asking the court to overturn a July 2009 ruling by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson that gave the state three years to work out an agreement with neighbors Alabama and Florida or face not being able to withdraw water from Lake Lanier.

“There are so many questions out there as to how Judge Magnuson’s ruling will affect us, if it does,” Randall said. “It’s difficult being a water department director these days because it’s hard to do your future planning and make sure you utilize the public’s dollar in the most cost effective way.”

Randall is on the panel that will include Brenau professors, water policy directors and city, county and state utilities officials. Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and chairwoman of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, will moderate the discussion.

“We need a refresh of history and what it means to us at the state and local levels,” she said. “What have we done to address the situation locally, and what have we done as a state to conserve water and make sure we have drinking water for the future?”

The group will look at the fundamentals of Lake Lanier’s watershed, the legal complexities surrounding Lake Lanier use and how Gainesville, Hall County and Gwinnett County are addressing current and future water demands.

The panel will also take questions from the audience and discuss solutions for Georgia’s impending water shortage.

“There’s a lot at stake depending on how the judges rule, and we need to look to the future of water,” Dunlap said. “Don’t quit conserving. We will still have the need for additional sources of water and clean water up and down stream.”

On Monday, Deal met with members of his water supply task force to talk about solutions for the tri-state water dispute.

Deal said he believes issues between Alabama and Georgia may be easier to resolve than issues involving Florida, but he did not elaborate.

“We have had preliminary discussions, and we are encouraged by those discussions,” Deal said of talks with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

“But I don’t think we can simply wait for those issues to resolve themselves in any format, either in the courts or through the negotiation process,” Deal said. “There are things we have to do with the resources we have and the things we have jurisdiction over.”

Deal has proposed spending $300 million over four years to build and expand reservoirs and fund water planning by local governments. He has also charged his water supply task force with guiding the development and implementation of his water supply program.

“I do not want us to get in the business of being the water czars of the state,” Deal told the task force. “I think that would be a mistake. I think we need to make sure that local communities have the buy-in.”

The group is expected to present a water supply plan to Deal by late October or early November.