ANDERSON, S.C. — Standing on a rain-slicked gangplank on Lake Hartwell for the start of this year's Bassmaster Classic, it would be hard to believe the severity of the drought afflicting South Carolina and much of the Southeast. But it only takes one glance at the bright orange clay banks of this impounded reservoir to imagine the extent of the natural disaster.
On Wednesday, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne addressed water issues in an interview with ESPNOutdoors.com, after speaking at the Classic media day on conservation programs.
"There has to be cooperation," said Kempthorne, an admitted trout-fishing aficionado and former two-term Governor of Idaho.
Sounds simple enough, but cooperation has been in short supply during the "water wars," between South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama over the allocation of water during a severe drought and a population boom.
Kempthorne cited a pact on the Colorado River basin signed by seven states last year. It was the first agreement since 1922 governing water use among Western states.
"Now, I've met with the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida — and they all have their needs within their state," Kempthorne explained. "But as a region, you have your needs, so we're trying to find a path forward that doesn't just rely on the courts to make an edict after millions of dollars have been spent."
Kempthorne said he'd prefer the governors of each respective state to design and craft their own agreement before presenting it for federal approval.
"What I offered the governors is for them to come up with a tri-state agreement that we [the U.S. Department of the Interior] can endorse rather than them waiting for the federal government to give them what they must endorse," he said, emphatically.
And the states involved are making progress.
"Just last Monday, Governor Perdue asked to extend a deadline," State of Georgia spokesman Marshall Guest said. "And we've already made significant progress with the State of Florida."
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue announced last week that the states involved hoped to reach a drought management agreement by March 1.
"Secretary Kempthorne's contributions have been instrumental in working towards a solution that is beneficial to all states," Perdue said in a press release.
The one facet of drought management no agreement can affect, however, is rain itself. Here's hoping that Lake Hartwell dock stays slick.
Bassmaster.com will provide unprecedented live video coverage of the Classic this week, Feb. 22-24. We'll have live "Hooked Up," daily launches at 7:15 a.m. ET and live weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards starting at 4:30 p.m. ET broadcast live from the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C.