A Dispatch from the Water Wars -- The Georgia Front


Mark Twain’s observation about the relative uses of water and whiskey evidently applies as much in the Southeast as out West. As an epochal drought persists, Florida and Alabama continue to battle with Georgia over who gets the water from Lake Lanier, a federal reservoir that supplies water to over 3 million residents of Atlanta – and feeds the Apalachicola River that flows down to Florida and Alabama. The latest skirmish was before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit (Southeastern Fed. Power Customers, Inc. v. Geren).

The specific issue before the court was a 2003 agreement between Georgia and the U.S. Corps of Engineers (Corps), the federal agency that operates Lake Lanier. The agreement would have given metro Atlanta 65% more water from Lake Lanier (representing about a quarter of the reservoir’s storage capacity). Florida and Alabama sued to invalidate the deal, claiming that Georgia’s withdrawals from the reservoir would sharply reduce the flows essential for their municipalities, industries, recreational water users, and wetlands ecosystems. They brought claims under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Flood Control Act, and the Water Supply Act. One of the factual allegations was that Georgia had done virtually nothing to reduce water usage through conservation or land use controls.

The court sided with Florida and Alabama, although it did not address some of the more provocative issues under NEPA and the Flood Control Act.

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