Category: Water Wars

With Water Language Removed, Georgia Lawmakers Support the Omnibus Spending Bill

Language that could have led to congressional involvement in Georgia’s ongoing battle with Florida and Alabama over water rights was removed in the final version of the 2016 omnibus appropriations bill that was passed by the House and Senate today and signed into law by President Obama before he left for a Christmas vacation in Hawaii. Both Senator Johnny Isakson and Senator Perdue voted to approve the measure. Earlier, the House approved the measure with only Reps. Hank Johnson and Jody Hice opposing.

Republicans and Democrats in the Georgia delegation, along with Governor Deal, united to oppose language in the original omnibus that could have brought federal intervention into the negotiations over the state’s water rights, rather than the present method of trying to secure an interstate compact resolving the issue.

A spokesperson in Senator Perdue’s office said that while the Senator didn’t appreciate the way the massive bill that covers $1.1 trillion in discretionary spending came to the floor, he voted in favor because the water language was removed. In a statement, the senator said, “When it came to funding the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2016, I’m proud the Georgia Delegation stood together to advance Georgia priorities. The Georgia Delegation along with Governor Deal worked to stop the latest political attempt to intervene in our state’s water supply.”

Senator Isakson also noted the efforts of the delegation to remove the water wars provisions, saying in a statement, “In particular, thanks to the efforts of a united Georgia Congressional delegation, I am pleased we were able to thwart efforts by one member of Congress to insert language in the omnibus that was designed solely to harm the state of Georgia while helping the states of Alabama and Florida in the tri-state water dispute.”

14th District Congressman Tom Graves offered similar praise for the removal of the water language: “The number one issue for Georgia in this legislation was stopping an assault by other states on our water rights,” said Rep. Graves. “These other states were trying to use a government funding bill to circumvent the legal process and restrict Georgia’s access to its own water. I’m grateful to every member of the Georgia congressional delegation, Republicans and Democrats, for working around the clock to secure this major victory for our state.”

11th District Congressman Barry Loudermilk, whose district contains the Lake Allatoona reservoir explained why he voted for the measure:

“The provision that was slipped into the end of year funding bill would have been disastrous to Georgia and especially devastating to the 11th Congressional District. Access to our water resources is critical to sustaining our quality of life and our economic growth. In a case like this, where the questionable provision was inserted in a must-pass piece of legislation, a simple no vote would have been insufficient. We had to act; and, thanks to the immediate action of a unified Georgia delegation and Governor Deal, we were able to protect our state’s water resources.

“The new leadership in the House has committed to change the culture in Washington DC, and their quick and helpful response to this last minute attempt to circumvent access to Georgia’s water is evidence that backroom deals are no longer accepted as the way we do business.”

Loudermilk is a member of the House Freedom Caucus. Members of the Freedom Caucus were instrumental in removing former Speaker John Boehner and replacing him with Paul Ryan. As for Ryan, this tweet from National Journal reporter Daniel Newhauser says it all.

Florida Rep. Introduces Bill to Guarantee Water Flows Into the Apalachicola Bay

As if there weren’t enough water related issues on the table Wednesday, the Florida congresswoman representing Apalachicola Bay introduced legislation that directs the Army Corps of Engineers to take into account the freshwater needs of the bay in its water planning manual for the Apalachicola Flint Chattahoochee river system. Democratic Rep. Gwen Graham of Florida’s second congressional district announced the Apalachicola Bay Restoration Act on Tuesday, according to a story in the Palm Beach Post.

Currently, the Corps is acting under guidance from a 2011 court decision that allows the Atlanta metro area to take water from the Chattahoochee and Lake Lanier in order to satisfy its water needs. In response, Florida sued the Peach State over water rights in October, 2013. That case is now pending in the Supreme Court. That, in turn prompted Georgia Governor Nathan Deal to create a new state agency to coordinate the response to the Supremes.

Graham’s bill has drawn bipartisan support from 20 of 29 Florida Representatives, including Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan, who said in a statement, “With the right management and conservation efforts, we can save [the bay] from total collapse. This bipartisan bill represents an important part of that solution.” Graham’s next task is to build a wider base of support for the measure. From the Post story:

Graham said she had not yet approached members of Congress from Georgia and Alabama about supporting her bill, as she has focused on getting the Florida delegation on board. But that will be her next move.

“As the third largest state, we have clout,” said Graham, whose district includes Franklin County. “So the next step will be to talk to the members of the other delegations and hopefully have them speaking with their state leadership about this opportunity to end two-plus decades of litigation.”

In 2014, Georgia’s congressional delegation managed to stop an amendment to a major water bill authored by Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama that would have given Congress a say in how water in the ACF basin is allocated. Rep. Graham’s bill is a similar attempt, so one must wonder how much support her bill will receive from the Georgia delegation.

SCOTUS Will Take Water Wars Case

Following a weekend of inexplicable good luck, Florida Governor Rick Scott has announced that the Supreme Court will hear Florida v. Georgia in what is likely the last battle of the Water Wars.

At issue is whether the Army Corps of Engineers should be allowed to change its Water Control Manual (due out in November 2016) for the Alabama, Coosa, and Talapoosa Rivers given a court ruling that allows Lake Lanier reserves to be classified as drinking water. Florida wants the water to protect their oyster and jean shorts crop; we want it to supply South Georgia agriculture and thirsty ATLiens, who already pay some of the highest water bills in the world.

The Supreme Court has given the state 30 days to prepare a response.

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.
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Isakson Grills HHS Nominee Over Delay in Savannah Harbor Project

When Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Burwell was nominated by President Obama last month to replace Kathleen Sebelius, we got an early warning from Senator Johnny Isakson that during her confirmation hearings he would be questioning her role in the keeping the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project off of the FY 2015 budget.

Today, she had her hearing, and was questioned by the Senator. After Isakson noted that getting the project started was his most important challenge as a Senator, and one that affected the entire U.S. economy, the nominee indicated that “there are ways this project can go forward.” However, she indicated that final passage of the Water Resources Development Act, which resets the budget amount allocated to the project, will go a long way towards Presidential approval of funding.

The WRDA bill is the subject of negotiations between Senate and House leadership. Once that difference–which has nothing to do with the harbor deepening–is resolved, the final bill is expected to be approved by both the Senate and the House. Once that happens, Georgia would be able to begin the project using state money until federal funding arrives, presumably in FY 2016.

Isakson’s questioning of Director Burwell can be seen below.

The inability of Washington to move the SHEP project forward, despite the admission of everyone that it is important and should be done was the subject of a recent front-page New York Times story.

Georgia Responds to Florida’s Water Lawsuit

If you think you’ve seen the above headline before, you probably have. In the latest installment of the 20 year long water wars, Florida sued Georgia last October, claiming they needed more water in Apalachicola Bay to grow oysters.

Georgia has now responded to that lawsuit.

According to the Gainesville Times, the 126 page response says Florida’s claim that Georgia draws too much water from Lake Lanier neglects the fact that 70% of that consumption is returned to the Chattahoochee. A similar claim that future water use will take even more water from the lake by 2040 fails to note that by then, Georgia will return around 78% of its water use to the river.

The response notes the Army Corps of Engineers is currently preparing a water control manual that will set water usage rights for Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

“In completing that process, the corps, exercising statutory authority delegated by Congress, will consider, among other things, effects on endangered and threatened species,” the response states.

“Florida, however, is not content to await the outcome of the corps’ deliberative process. Instead, it seeks to bypass that entire proceeding by asking this court to engage in a common-law ‘equitable apportionment’ of the states’ rights to those waters.”

In 2012, the Supreme Court refused to take up the Sunshine State’s appeal of a ruling by the 11th Circuit Court that overturned Judge Magnuson’s 2009 decision in District Court which would have greatly limited metro Atlanta’s access to water from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River.

In related news, we note that yesterday was Groundhog Day.

Is Alabama Getting Ready to Re-enter the Water Wars?

Ever since the 11th circuit Court of Appeals overturned a judicial ruling that would have greatly limited Atlanta’s water use, Alabama has pretty much retreated from the 25 year old battle of how to best allocate water along the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basins. But, in a meeting of the Alabama Water Resources Commission yesterday, Alabama’s lawyer in the fight accused Cobb County of taking too much water out of Lake Allatoona.

Cobb County’s Water Authority disputes the charge, claiming that Alabama is using too narrow a view of how much water Cobb could draw from the lake, although it admitted it had taken too much out in the past.

Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions advocated putting a clause in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act legislation that would have required Congressional approval for any changes in water allocation for the basin. His measure failed to make it into the final bill, which is awaiting a House-Senate conference committee.

At the beginning of October, Florida filed suit against Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court over it’s water use. Will Alabama join the cause?

At the meeting, Water Resources Commission member H.E. “Sonny” Cauthen asked if the state would join in a suit against Georgia because of the Cobb County situation.

“If the abuse is so flagrant, why wouldn’t Alabama join that suit?” he asked.

Lembke said he couldn’t comment, citing attorney-client privilege. Gov. Robert Bentley said earlier in the month that the state wouldn’t join in the Florida suit. Bentley spokesman Jeremy King said Thursday that governor was urging the Corps of Engineers to re-think its proposed water use plan.

Stay tuned.

House To Take Up WRRDA, and Why It’s Important

After a delay caused by the government shutdown and debt limit debate, the U.S. House this week will take up H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform Development Act, commonly known by the acronym WRRDA. The bill goes before the Rules committee this afternoon, and should be considered tomorrow by the full House.

Getting this bill passed is important to Georgians for two reasons. The biggest is that it would clear the way for the deepening of the Port of Savannah. Originally proposed back in 1996, the project has grown more urgent, since larger “Panamax” ships are expected to begin delivering cargo in 2015 following the widening of the Panama Canal. Without the river being deepened, these larger ships would have to bypass Georgia.

The project has been held up by Congress putting a $459 million limit on its cost. Due to the delay in starting the project and the cost of environmental and other studies, the project is now estimated to cost $662 million. Passing the bill would lift the 1999 cap, although it wouldn’t guarantee federal funding. In the meantime, Georgia has set aside $231 million for it’s share of the cost, and Governor Deal indicated the state will begin work on the port using its money should the bill pass.

The bill is also important for what it means for Lake Lanier, which supplies much of metro Atlanta’s water. As the bill was being developed, Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida attempted to add language that would require congressional approval before the Army Corps of Engineers could change the amount of water flowing down the Chattahoochee. Due to the efforts of Georgia’s congressmen (and Senators when similar restrictions were proposed in the Senate version), the proposal was removed.

Once the bill passes the House, it will go to a conference committee to reconcile it with the Senate version, which passed back in May. With any luck, the final version of the bill should be signed by the President before the end of the year.

From The Daily: Georgia Owned Part Of Chattanooga

I knew I wasn’t crazy (although my colleagues here disagree with that statement) when I had said earlier that Georgia had land in Chattanooga.  From Athens Banner-Herald:

It was where the Chattanooga Public Library now sits, where the TVA complex stands, where the Edney Building and the Pickle Barrel anchor Market Street, where the Tallan Building and EPB’s offices rise and where Miller Park offers downtown shade and respite.

“I heard the stories about it when I first came to Chattanooga 40 years ago,” said former Mayor Ron Littlefield.

Littlefield and others remember brass plaques embedded in the sidewalks and engraved with this message: “Property of the State of Georgia, leased to the State of Tennessee.”

That’s a few blocks from my office (my office building is bounded by 5th and 6th Streets and Walnut and Lookout Streets).  The desire to put up a few small Georgia state flags in Miller Park has increased tenfold.  Unfortunately, the brass plaques are no where to be found.  I’m sure many Chattanoogans probably would like to not be reminded of the fact that the great state of Georgia owned large parcels of downtown Chattanooga (I blame the hipsters).  In fact, there has been an uneasy relationship between the city and its neighboring state:

In 1926, Chattanooga Commissioner Ed Bass used a bit of trickery to speed along a Georgia secession. The sides were awaiting a court ruling on whether the city could use eminent domain to extend Broad Street from Ninth to Main Street — right through one of Georgia’s buildings.

“The city arranged to begin demolition for the construction of the road on a Saturday when the courthouse was closed and when obtaining an injunction to stop demolition would have been impossible,” according to a news account.

“Crews worked Saturday night and all day Sunday. In the early hours of Monday morning, with the city commissioner on hand to direct them, cars drove through the new road while a band played ‘Marching Through Georgia.’ ”

According to the history books, Bass and the city commission were unhindered when they razed the new road’s path.

Within a year, Bass was elected mayor, and he won re-election four times.

Georgia eventually agreed to the city’s use of the property to extend the road.

Our history has gotten a lot more interesting, and I believe it gives my nickname “Occupied Territory” more validity.  Yes, I know, Georgia sold a lot of its holdings, but still.

If you haven’t signed up for the Peach Pundit Daily, you really should.  Seriously.  Do it now.

An Intriguing Thought About That Pipeline To The Tennessee River

A Facebook friend of mine, Chris Smith (no relation…I think), posted this intriguing thought on my wall concerning a pipeline using the rail right-of-way that the State of Georgia owns that goes to downtown Chattanooga:

Nathan,

In all seriousness, the State of Georgia already has access to the Tennessee River (kind of).  I’m surprised no one has brought this up already.

The Western & Atlantic Railroad runs from Atlanta, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee.  The line is owned by the State of Georgia and leased to (now) CSX.  The lease is set to expire around 2019.

When the W&A terminated in downtown Chattanooga, Georgia owned a good deal of land where the tracks and railroad equipment terminated at or close to the river.  I’m not sure who owns it now, as the W&A/L&N was rerouted in the 1970’s (ish) out of downtown.

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Dear Tennessee: We’re Coming After What’s Rightfully Ours! Again!!

I saw this bill (HR 4) in the House pre-files before the session began, and even printed it out and laid it upon the desk of a co-worker here in Georgia’s Secret Outpost Chattanooga.  We’re trying to take back our water…again…like we’ve tried for the past 200+ years.  Anyway, Saporta Report has a write up about it, but I figured I would give my $.02 worth on the bill and the over-arching issue.

For those just joining us, the federal statutory border between Georgia and Tennessee is supposed to lay along the 35th parallel.  Due to whatever reason, drunkenness, Indian warriors scaring the bejeezus out of surveyors, horrible math, aliens, the border is actually short by about a mile south of the 35th.  If it were land, it probably would not matter all that much, but from what I understand, the *intent* of the statutory border is supposed to allow Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia to share the Tennessee River.  Supposedly, both states are supposed to recognize the border.  My understanding is that Georgia never recognized the incorrect border.

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11 Circuit Won’t Hear Water Appeal

Yesterday the 11th Circuit Court Of Appeals denied a request made by Florida and Alabama to have the full Court hear last year’s decision to overturn the ban on drawing drinking water from Lake Lanier. Next stop US Supreme Court.

Last June, a three-judge panel of the appellate court overturned a lower court ruling declaring that water supply was not an authorized purpose of the federally managed reservoir when Buford Dam was built during the 1950s.

The July 2009 decision by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson had threatened to deprive metro Atlanta of its largest source of drinking water.
Instead, the panel remanded the long-running tri-state water case back to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers , giving the agency one year to determine how to allocate water between the supply needs of the fast-growing Atlanta region, the needs of industrial water customers in Alabama and Florida’s need for adequate water to protect aquatic species.