Update on the Water Wars

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.

Meanwhile, Florida has sued Georgia in the Supreme Court in an effort to get around the Water Control Manual update process. Georgia’s response to the suit was a plea to let the Corps do its work.


  1. saltycracker says:

    Fortune, May 19 has an article entitled “what is water worth?”
    Atlanta gets mentioned for having one of the highest residential water rates in the WORLD.

    A graphic chart puts it into perspective. A rate almost double that of NYC, Fives times Miami, 4x Chicago, more than 2x LA, 6x Mexico City and on and on.
    Where is all our stunning cost going ?

    • Harry says:

      I would guess it’s going to fund the federally mandated massive sewage control improvements.

    • Jon Richards says:

      Salty, I can think of at least two reasons:

      First, metro Atlanta was placed on conservation water pricing back during the 2008 drought by the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District. Essentially the water price skyrockets after a certain amount of usage. That has to be one contributing factor. It’s supply and demand: we have a relatively small supply based on the number of people in the area, so price goes up to minimize demand.

      The second factor may have more to do with sewer rates than water rates. Because sanitary sewer outflow must be returned to the Chattahoochee, it must be highly treated to return oxygen to the outflow in order not to kill marine animals. The amount of treatment required is much higher (and therefore more expensive) than it would be if the effluent were returned to a lake or the ocean.

        • saltycracker says:

          Wait, in Cherokee, where we push to have sewer everywhere, they claim the developers pay as we go but our water rates are right up there…..Cobb which owns 75% of the new reservoir with Canton now wishes it didn’t.

          • saltycracker says:

            Maybe we need to get all the folks serving on these water boards to use the services they oversee instead of wells and septic systems. Misery loves company.

            • saltycracker says:

              Apologize for another post but to give you a smile –
              The last time we got a rate increase the reason was revenue had dropped due to the increased rainfall and poor economy….expenses and improved employee programs continued up..

              PS. sprawl is what water desperate Miami does for a lot less basic water cost..

  2. saltycracker says:

    Correction…Jon…..Don’t doubt these could be contributing factors but we are not one of the more arid or short supply or expensive supply areas in the world or have the cleanest water beyond all other standards.

    I’d struggle to think how we have one of the most catching up to do in infrastructure or a third world level incompetently run system or the least subsidized or even the most costly sources. History suggests the first question around here has to be our management of the public service before we can move on to price reasonably.

    Guess it is some combo of all the above to have one of the most expensive basic needs in the world.
    Not good.

  3. sonofliberty says:

    …….let’s not forget that conservative estimates place water loss leakage …..through ancient infrastructure……at 30 percent……..

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