We haven’t heard too much recently about the ongoing water wars, where metro Atlanta competes with middle and south Georgia for its water supply, and Georgia battles Florida and Alabama for water the state believes it owns. Part of that is because the region is no longer in a drought, part of it is because some of the legal issues have been settled, and part of it is because progress on the permanent allocation of water resources is slowly being made.
Two items last week clarify the current state of the water wars.
The first is the passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, which now awaits the President’s signature. Language in the bill and the conference committee report inserted by Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions attempted to insert Congress back into the process of deciding how water is allocated, rather than letting it be an issue between the states.
The Georgia House delegation removed Sessions’ language, and indicated a desire for states to work to resolve the allocation issue. This led to the following colloquy on the House floor last week as the bill was being debated:
As a result of the passage of WRRDA, the Army Corps of Engineers is now free to do its work in allocating the water supply from Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona. And that brings us to the other item regarding the water wars.
The Council for Quality Growth hosted a luncheon with Senator Johnny Isakson and representatives of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the Army Corps of Engineers on Monday, May 19th. The purpose of the lunch was to discuss the metro Atlanta area’s future water supply.
In deciding how to allocate water from the rivers under the its control, the Corps of Engineers must prioritize possible uses, including navigation, recreation, hydropower, water supply and fish. Control of the river’s flow is done at the reservoirs controlled by the Corps. This allocation is contained inside a Water Control Manual for each basin, which in turn contains water control manuals for each reservoir and dam owned by the Corps.
Two river basins have the most relevance for Georgia. The first is the ACT basin (for the Alabama, Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers.) This basin takes the water from Lake Allatoona, and covers a bit of northewest Georgia before leading into Alabama and eventually to the Mississippi. Much of the work to complete an updated Water Control Manual is finished, and the new manual (and sub-manuals) are expected to be completed in December, 2014.
More important, however, is the ACF basin, which starts above Lake Lanier, and includes the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint basins. Georgia has a significant stake here, because 74% of the basin runs through Georgia. In addition, almost two thirds of the water storage in the basin is at Lake Lanier, despite the fact that only 6% of the basin drains into the lake.
Of particular concern is the water supply for the Atlanta metro area. While previous lawsuits claimed drinking water supply was not one of the intended purposes for the lake, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decided in 2011 that drinking water was a valid use.
And, that leads to a revision of the Water Control Manual for the ACF basin. Based on the information provided at the luncheon, the Corps is considering all of these factors in its revision, however progress is slow. Initial alternatives modeling is underway, and a proposal for review by the public and other agencies is due by August, 2015. Final Water Control Manuals are expected to be complete by November of 2016.