Georgia Wins Key Battle In Tri-State Water Wars

Today’s Courier Herald Column:

Again today, we can thank the federal judiciary for keeping this from being a slow week in politics. Late yesterday afternoon, a three judge panel unanimously overturned a 2009 ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson. Magnuson had declared that Georgia must settle the dispute with Alabama and Florida over how much water it could take from Lake Lanier, or otherwise reduce the amount of water taken by the Atlanta region for drinking purposes to 1970’s levels.

Magnuson agreed with Florida and Alabama that Lake Lanier was not constructed to serve as a water supply for the Atlanta area, having only the federally mandated uses of hydroelectric power, navigation, and flood control. The three judges scoffed at this position, noting that prior to the dam’s construction, the Chattahoochee river served as the main water supply for Atlanta, and thus Atlanta and the state of Georgia would not have allowed or supported construction of the dam if it threatened the capitol’s water supply.

Magnuson had essentially threatened to cut off water to many Atlanta households if Georgia didn’t agree to settle on terms that would no doubt have been favorable to the neighboring states. Instead, the three judges instructed the Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the flow of water from Lake Lanier to communities downstream, to update its water allocation plan within one year, taking the needs of all stakeholders, including the need for Atlanta drinking water, into account. It is presumed that the Governor’s initiative to jump start reservoir construction across North Georgia to buttress Lanier’s supply will continue, as will conservation efforts aimed at reducing per capita consumption.

With final resolution still over a year away, many throughout Georgia are still breathing a sigh of relief. Nervous South Georgians have long since feared that Atlanta would use inter-basin transfers to move water from their regions to Atlanta to quench its ever growing thirst. Much of this region is having water problems of its own these days, as 22 counties were declared disaster areas yesterday due to ongoing drought.

Agricultural interests in Southwest Georgia, however, may not be overjoyed at the prospect of Atlanta sending less water downstream, as many along the southern Chattahoochee’s banks have more common interests with Alabama on the subject than their fellow Georgians to the north.

Georgia’s leaders at the state and federal level have often wondered aloud but off the record whether Alabama’s true intentions were about water, but much more about capping Atlanta’s growth. There was a time when Atlanta and Birmingham were quite similar and competed for the perception of being the capital of the south. Hartsfield Jackson airport seemed to settle that battle. Georgia’s front line leaders of this water war battle firmly believed that Alabama was significantly less concerned about the amount of water available for a lower Alabama nuclear power plant than siphoning off growth that would have otherwise been headed to Atlanta were it not for a new found lack of hydrological infrastructure.

Alabama’s governor has vowed an appeal to the full 11th Circuit, but with the three judges ruling unanimously, it is unlikely that the full body currently composed of 10 judges will overturn the three. The Army Corps of Engineers is now tasked with finalizing a report that they have been working on for more than 20 years, prioritizing the needs of all users within the Chattahoochee basin. Presuming this ruling stands, the needs of roughly five million Georgians to occasionally drink water will stand high on that list.


  1. SOGTP says:

    I have a question.

    Was it the State of Alabama that sued Georgia over Lake Lanier? What exactly is the title of the suit?

    ___________ v. Georgia

    • Dave Bearse says:

      One state directly sues another and it goes directly to the Supreme Court, a wildcard that Alabama or Florida weren’t willing to put in play.

  2. griftdrift says:

    Actually, if say the Corps decided in Alabama’s favor and released more water, it would be likely Georgia vs. United States or something along those line.

    Not that it really matters. Although to you I imagine it does. And I think I know where this absurdity is going.

    • SOGTP says:

      grift. The suit was filed against Georgia. I’m trying to ascertain who actually sued Georgia.

      Georgia didn’t sue anyone.

      • griftdrift says:

        Oh. I thought you were asking what would the title of a future suit be.

        It had a few names. The defendant was always the Corps since it’s their plan that dictates the water flow. Here they are:

        JOHN M. McHUGH, Secretary of the Army, et al.,

        COUNTY, GEORGIA, et al.,
        JOHN M. McHUGH, in his official capacity as Secretary
        of the United States Army, et al.,

        JOHN M. McHUGH, Secretary of the Army, et al.,

        JOHN M. McHUGH, Secretary of the Army, et al.,

  3. GeorgiaValues says:

    A key behind the scenes player in Georgia’s success is Nels Peterson.

    He deserves a lot of credit for this win.

      • Charlie says:

        Nels served as legal counsel to Governor Perdue, and now works for Attorney General Sam Olens.

        And from what I understand, I would agree that he deserves a decent share of the credit.

  4. CobbGOPer says:

    I still say we need to pursue our water rights on the Tennessee River, regardless of how this turns out. By rights we should have access, after all…

  5. saltycracker says:

    The COE is going to have to allocate more water from their lakes, hopefully the decision will stick.
    A challenge is Lanier is supplied by two short GA originating rivers and will be inadequate.
    Other sources, rivers, reservoirs have to be in the planning.

  6. bgsmallz says:

    Isn’t this, you know, kind of a big deal?

    I know when Magnuson issued his ruling, the AJC ran scare story after scare story after scare story (some with good reason)….so now that the state has achieved “a sweeping victory” in a higher and more significant court, you can’t even find the story on the front page of (well…you can, but you have to look below “The Buzz”, the Peachtree Road race countdown clock, and a hard hitting story about Pepsi using Santa in their summer ads.

    Where are the editorials? Where is the Mike Luckovich cartoon mocking Alabama and Florida’s governors? Seriously, its ridiculous. This is one of the most significant court rulings affecting Atlanta, arguably ever, and the AJC barely bats an eye.

    Remember, they don’t care about news. They care about page clicks. They are a tabloid. I wish we had a real news paper in this town.

    • bgsmallz says:

      I guess I forgot that they launched an “Atlanta Forward” editorial section just last week in which they declared the following to be the three biggest issues facing Atlanta: Water, Transportation, and Education.

      What in the heezy is going on over there? So, Water is one of the biggest issues facing the city and you have just recently declared that you will be doing running editorials on the issue and a ruling like this comes out and ‘poof’….nothing. UGH.

      This if my favorite line from that editorial…barely a week old…

      “There are many who don’t believe that the courts, Congress or even President Barack Obama would allow the use of water from Lake Lanier to be yanked back to 1970s levels. They should get over that Pollyannaish notion — fast. We must act as though the doomsday scenario is a reality, which it is, barring action by the courts or an unexpected tri-state settlement.”

      So…a ruling completely demolishing part of the overall theme of the entire editorial comes down and not a bit of ink on the topic? Bush league.

      • Calypso says:

        The AJC will reply as soon as they find a towel large enough to wipe all the egg off their collective faces.

      • bgsmallz says:

        Final line and then I’ll go back into my cave. This is a great victory for Georgia and common sense. Hopefully, it puts us in a position to negotiate a settlement with the other states that makes sense for everyone (instead of screwing the largest metro region in the SE). I also hope that it doesn’t make us complacent on finding new sources of water (new resivoirs or tapping into the Tenn River) or complacent on conservation. It’s a new world out there, folks. Water is quickly becoming our scarcest resource. Conserve, Conserve, Conserve.

        • griftdrift says:

          I heard Deal interviewed yesterday and he said we still have to pursue reservoirs not controlled by the Corps. Not becoming complacent IS the nut of the whole deal. Complacency of the past 50 years is got us where we are.

  7. elfiii says:

    “Water is quickly becoming our scarcest resource. Conserve, Conserve, Conserve.”

    I have a better idea. All Yankees who moved here after about 1990 need to go back where they came from.

    That’s an idea all Southerners can agree upon.

      • saltycracker says:

        OK but the parents have to go, WWBPD, what would benev’s parents do ?
        Take him or leave him ?

        • benevolus says:

          I’m from PA. I came here when I was 17 (by myself). I like to say that I wasn’t born here but I got here as quick as I could. So I probably would stay whether I was allowed to or not. Unless I could figure out how to live in France.

  8. Dave Bearse says:

    It’s an activist ruling some by conservatives’s standards in that the legislation and supporting record make virtually no mention of metro Atlanta water supply.

    A takeaway is that the title “Special Master” isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Comments are closed.