End Game Near For Tri-State Water Wars

Two separate lawsuits, one in federal court, one filed by the State of Georgia to the U.S. Supreme Court, appear ready to settle the issue over water rights and Lake Lanier within the next 18-24 months. 

As described in the AJC, Alabama and Florida claim that being a water supply for Atlanta was not one of the original intended purposes of the lake, as authorized by Congress:

Alabama and Florida have contested metro Atlanta’s right to additional drinking water from Lanier since 1990, when the first of many lawsuits was filed. They say Congress didn’t authorize the reservoir to serve as metro Atlanta’s water supply when it approved Buford Dam in the 1940s. It was built in the 1950s, forming Lanier. They argue its purposes were to control floods, float barges downstream and generate hydropower.

Yet the reason most often cited for draining the lake, protection of the mussels on the riverbanks downstream, is an entirely new contrivance:

Protecting species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act is a new demand on Lanier that surfaced in recent years. It requires the corps to send more than 3 billion gallons of water a day to Florida during the worst droughts.

Thus, Florida would have the court believe that an additional 4 million people moving into the Atlanta area is an unfortunate surprise that isn’t their problem, but thirsty mussels should rearrange everyone else’s plans.

When I see logic like that, it makes me scared to see this in front of our modern court system.


  1. Tea Party says:

    Why would this solution NOT work?

    Georgia, either on a onetime fee basis or a p/Million Gallon Day basis PAYS TN for use of the Tennessee River H20?

    Taking TN reparian rights based on an incorrect survey MAY have legal ooommmph, but it will take years for the Supremes to hear the case.

    In any case, three States, one tiny river, it is not going to work long term.

    Surely, GA has something TN wants….

    Then we can send FL/AL all the water the mussels need.

  2. Icarus says:

    I think you’re looking at it backwards, Tea Party. Despite their political blustering, my understanding of the discussions with TN officials is that they know they’re wrong, and risk not only losing water, but a decent portion of the City of Chattanooga with it’s associated tax base.

    The question should be, how much would they be willing to pay us to take our water without taking the land and tax revenue that are also rightfully ours?

  3. Icarus says:

    Perhaps if we could get Tropical Storm Faye to make a slight left turn and stall a bit, we could put this issue on the back burner for another 5 or 10 years. (that strategy seemed to work well in the past)

  4. umustbekidding says:

    Doesn’t the Chattahoochee begin in Ga? I just don’t see how any other state could have claim on water that falls here.

  5. Chris says:

    Water rights are like congressional accounting practices. They are not based on anything remotely resembling sanity or reality.

    For example, Rain Barrels are illegal in Colorado because all rain that falls in that state is the property of the state.

  6. Tea Party says:

    Right as rain, the ‘grow ivy over it’ solution is one way to go. Pray for Fay, is another, afterall it worked last time…

    I figure the Supreme Court will take years to sort this out, and perhaps the common logic that Atlanta’s growth is unlimited (at least in developer circles) may have hit diminishing returns.

    Believe me, the recent incorporations are all about the water…

    umust, The Imperial Valley in California depends on Colorado H20, the mandate of the US Army Corps of Engineers is to ensure adequate irrigation.

    Icarus’ original point is well taken, the mussels are a new wrinkle. I find it ironic, that Atlanta is probably the largest consumer of Appalachicola oysters…

  7. SavannahDem says:

    Icarus –

    You can’t be serious that there is any chance that the border will be moved. (Or, as Sen. Shafer would say “the correct border be recognized.”)

    This “solution” to Atlanta’s water problem is just about the same as the Republican plan to solve our dependence on foreign oil: the drill now plan.

    1. Both would take years to show any benefit. (i.e. TN won’t roll over in court and drilling now actually means seeing oil five years from now.)

    2. Neither solve the underlying problem – demand. Atlanta needs to figure out how to use less water. The US needs to figure out how to use less oil.

    Of course, if nothing is done, then the market will solve the problem. People will pay through the nose for the resource and demand will shift downward.

    This, of course, causes a political problem. Mad people don’t typically vote for incumbents. “What do you mean it costs $x.xx per gallon?!?!” or “My water bill used to be $xx.xx per month, and now it’s $xxx.xx?!?!”

    Which brings me around to my overall point. We’ve had Sonny since 2002 and George since 2000. Both problems have been around since before they took office, yet nothing was done. Good job planning guys.

    P.S. – The other problem with Sen. Shafer’s plan is that it violates the NY Times rule. Ga in the Times = We look like idiots.

  8. Icarus says:

    Actually, Savannah Dem, the border would have to be moved to make it where it is currently marked. The border was set by an act of Congress, and has not been changed. That, plus precedent, makes me very serious when I say that TN will negotiate their way out of this.

  9. Tea Party says:

    As stated, the border dispute has legal oooomph. I think it would be expediant to simply ‘pay’ in some fashion, for what we use or build.

    Otherwise, we risk the cost of a ‘decision-in-process’ ( ten years) and cost of losst to Atlanta growth momentum, which could cost billions …

    Icarus is not the first one to notice that I sometimes have things backwards. I just think trying to ‘take’ the TN River by storm will not go real well.

  10. Tea Party says:

    GA Oil Drilling will increase supply, especially if we keep the oil in the US. Right now the supply is so tight, the trheat of a ship sinking in the Straights of Hormuz would send oil markets inot a tizzy.

    Drill now, build refineries, and do all the other ‘green’ stuff, as a holistic approach to our ‘wealth transfer’ problem….

    I like T. Boone Pickens alot….

  11. SavannahDem says:

    The border “dispute” has absolutely no oooomph whatsoever. (Neither does praying for rain for that matter.) The border dispute is a hail mary pass thrown by a third string quarterback about forty years after he became a Kappa Sig at UGA. It’s not a plan to solve the water crisis.

    I’ll admit to having not done the legal research on the relevant statutes regarding the border. But I will say that, from a practical standpoint, the research doesn’t need to be done.

    It’s a dog case. The principal problem being that no judge or jury will rule in favor of the plaintiff. This happens in legal practice all the time. Good case on the law / bad case on the facts.

    Fact: the border is where it is right now. There are signs. There’s a rest stop. It’s been there since well before I, or anyone else reading this post, was born.

    Georgia (our version that is) did not recently lose some part of it’s northern territory to foreign invaders. The status quo is that TN has the land and the river that runs through it.

    Now, you’re going to tell me that some finder of fact will rule that the signs need to be moved, maps redrawn, citizens re-educated (ok, I made that up) because of a problem that no one was complaining about before Atlanta ran out of water?

    That argument has no oooomph. It might however have some guffaw.

  12. Icarus says:

    Savannah Dem,

    Your post is so riddled with errors I’m not sure where to begin.

    I’ll let one of the many lawyers that PP keeps on retainer help you with the legal stuff.

    As for the “no one was complaining about” part, it’s been an ongoing dispute for over 100 years. Just because it’s recently back in the headlines doesn’t mean it’s a fresh argument.

  13. Progressive Dem says:

    Amen Savanah. The guffaws will come when Sen Schafer tries to leverage the border dispute aka Tenn River water grab into a campaign for Lt. Guv. Both concepts are non-starters.

    It would be a gigantic tranfer of water from one basin to another. The only other government that would consider this kind of environmental blasphemy is China.

  14. SavannahDem says:

    My viewpoint is that unless you’ve filed a petition in court and served me with it, you’re not serious, you’re whining.

    Why hasn’t GA filed suit? If our position is sound, then pay the filing fee and get things started.

    Why did we place our signs where they are? Why haven’t we been foreclosing on property in TN for failure to pay GA property taxes? What about our failure to arrest TN citizens for not paying GA income taxes?

    B/c we didn’t care until God turned off the faucet.

    Get over it Icarus – the case is a dog. I hope that the AG refuses to file it. Then we can have a mandamus action to litigate first. There are lots of creative ways to waste taxpayer dollars.

    Also, for the lawyers on retainer, doesn’t the fact that Georgia’s known about this and been complaining without filing suit actually help an adverse possession argument that TN may have? Something about “open and notorious…” I just can’t seem to remember it.

  15. Tea Party says:

    SavDem, praying for rain is tongue in cheekiness. Oddly, the legal argument has sound merit, research it.

    Legal merit and practical merit are not the same, that is my point. Georgia is much better positioned this year than last as to a water plan. EPD and others have done a remarkable job with a new water plan.

    Plus, we give ourselves little credit for conservation, usage is way, way down. Hence higher bills. Weird, but true, fixed costs of water treatment are not lowered much by reduced demand.

  16. AtlConservative says:

    If it cannot change, why did the Tennessee-Mississippi border change? Also, why is this suddenly a dem-republican issue? This is a state issue! It should not be partisan. I understand those outside of Atlanta are against us, but you should remember how much business and taxes are brought in because of Atlanta. When was the last time you looked at the number of Fortune 500 companies with offices in Atlanta?

    Does growth for Atlanta hurt Savannah? Am I missing something? The US Constitution chose the coordinates for the GA-TN border. The person who initially placed this divider admitted to screwing up. How does gaining water hurt people outside of Atlanta?

    I know this topic inside and out and I’m confused by the attitude presented by the dems on this post. Please explain.


  17. Progressive Dem says:

    I’m not opposed to growth in metro politan Atlanta. I’m in favor of it, but we have to grow within the limits of the available natural resources. We have to leave enough clean water for those downstream. We don’t have the right to sacrifice some other place’s environment for our own well being whether they live in Savanah, Talahassee or Chatanooga.

  18. SavannahDem says:

    “Does growth for Atlanta hurt Savannah? Am I missing something?”

    Unchecked, unplanned growth in metro Atlanta gives the state a bad reputation (along with bad air and polluted streams…). Failure to address a serious problem with a serious plan gives the state a bad reputation.

    Whining that TN stole our river, praying for rain on the Capitol steps… well that just takes it to a whole new level.

    So yes, poor leadership in Atlanta harms the entire state. (Don’t get me started on the proposed “inter-basin” transfer from the Savannah River to Atlanta.)

    This is a partisan issue because it is the Republican Party that is providing the “leadership” on this issue.

    Savannah lives on two things: the port and tourism.

    If business thinks that GA’s leadership is backwards, crazy, ineffective, or whatever, then we will never find a business to locate at the super-site at I-16 & I-95.

    If GA looks stupid(er?) to the rest of the country, then tourism will be harmed. If we fail to protect the very reason that people come to the coast (i.e. our wetlands, the lack of massive amounts of development, the quality of life), then Savannah will be irreparably harmed.

    Oh yeah, and the number of Fortune 500 companies in Atlanta – you think that number will go up or down without a serious plan to address our water problems?

  19. chamblee54 says:

    1- Even if we were to get access to the Tennessee River, it would take a massive and expensive engineering project to build a pipeline through the mountains to get the water here.
    2- The people whining about the critters in Apalachicola never seem to mention the nuclear power plant in Alabama on the Hooch. Nukes, for all their other big government charms, use LOTS of water.
    3- At some point our local governments are going to have to learn to say no to a developer.

  20. Dave Bearse says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but Congress didn’t authorize construction of the dam to protect endangered species, so that leaves flood control, barge traffic and hydorpower generation.

    Atlanta withdrawing water can only reduce the liklihood of flooding. There is almost no barge traffic on the river, and additional water has been and can be released as necessary to accomodate barge traffic. That leaves only hydopower generation of the three.

  21. Tea Party says:

    Savannah’s port growth is being managed well by the State and local officials. Katrina kick started a lot of new growth, and frankly durn little that happens in ATL will affect lovely Savannah.

    If anything, sprawl and unfettered growth give Savannah a leg up on ATL. The growth of ATL is NOT why the ‘hootch is in trouble. When you have communities arguing over their right to limit growth by using septic instead of sewer systems, we witness the poor results of a lack of cohesive Regional Planning, with TEETH.

    Savannah is doing the best I have ever seen right now, so no talk of ATL unfettered growth, puh-leeze.

  22. SavannahDem says:

    “The growth of ATL is NOT why the ‘hootch is in trouble. ”

    Really? That’s not the cause of the problem? Humm, well then what is?

    “…the poor results of a lack of cohesive Regional Planning, with TEETH.”

    Oh, now I get it. The growth isn’t the problem. It’s the lack of planning that’s the problem. Kinda like I said in my first post on this thread?

    In case you don’t want to look for it. Here’s what I said:

    Which brings me around to my overall point. We’ve had Sonny since 2002 and George since 2000. Both problems have been around since before they took office, yet nothing was done. Good job planning guys.

  23. Tea Party says:

    Its lack of rain and not ATL consumption that is the water problem. The fact that the Corps is sending BILLIONS of water downstream to keep that little ol’ nuke plant going, and the mussels happy is the issue.

  24. Dave Bearse says:

    Tea Party – A longshoreman’s work slowdown/strike a few years ago about the same time as Katrina results in additional Savannah port traffic. Until recently west coast port capacity problems have continued to drive port traffic from the west to east coast. Now fuel costs are pushing water traffic from west to east coast ports, and the pending increase in the size of the Panama Canal provides additional economy of scale. The prospects for Savannah area economic growth are indeed rosy.

  25. SavannahDem says:

    “Its lack of rain and not ATL consumption that is the water problem.”

    Yes – if only we lived in a world of infinite supply, then demand would never matter.

    Dream on.

    When you have that many people living in one area you have to plan for the good times and the bad, drought and deluge.

    BTW – do you disagree with either of these statements?

    1. Keeping the nuclear plant going is a good idea.

    2. Maintaining our ecosystems is a good idea.

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