Posted on January 5, 2010 by Fournier J. Gale, III
For more than two decades, Alabama, Florida and Georgia have clashed over water use from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin to support growing demands for water in each state. While it may be a an over generalization, the controversy largely pits Atlanta’s need for a large enough water supply to support its tremendous population growth against water needs in Alabama and Florida for consumption, hydroelectricity, irrigation, recreation, fisheries, and endangered species protection. The states reached a Memorandum of Agreement in 1992 which set a deadline for allocating water from the two watersheds to each state; however, the states were unable to reach an allocation agreement within the deadline and previously filed litigation resumed. While negotiations since have proved futile, a recent federal court decision along with the fact that the governors from each state are all leaving office in January 2011 may lead to a permanent solution to the tri-state water wars in the near future.
Specifically, on July 17, 2009, United States District Court Judge Paul Magnuson of the Middle District of Florida ruled that Georgia was not properly authorized to withdraw substantial amounts of water from Lake Lanier (a part of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin) to provide drinking water to Atlanta. The Court held that because Lake Lanier is a federal reservoir built for purposes of flood control, hydropower generation, and navigation support, only Congress can approve the operational changes required for increased withdrawals of drinking water. Thus, the Court froze water withdrawals at current levels for the next three years to give time for Congressional approval. Without Congressional approval, withdrawals will revert to very low, baseline withdrawal levels used in the mid-1970s. Click here for a copy of the Court’s opinion.
As a result of the new court-ordered deadline, negotiations between the three states have resumed with a new fervor. On December 15, 2009, the Governors of Alabama, Florida and Georgia met in Montgomery, Alabama to discuss plans for reaching an agreement. While the Governors did not offer specifics on their negotiations, they did indicate that they now hope to reach an agreement on an allocation plan that could be presented to their respective state legislatures for approval this year. If an allocation plan does make it through each state’s legislature, it would of course have to go before Congress for final approval as well. To meet such an ambitious goal, the Governors would have to reach an accord as early as spring of this year.