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Tri-State Water War in Time-Out

June 29, 2012

On June 25, 2012, the Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear an appeal of the 11th Circuit Court’s opinion regarding the Corps’ ability to manage Lake Lanier for water supply, according to the AJC.  In other words, the Supreme Court’s action means that back in the 1940s Congress wanted Lake Lanier to be a water supply source for metro Atlanta.  Read this and this for a reminder of what the 11th Circuit’s 2011 ruling actually said and how it was a response to the 2009 Magnuson decision.  In short, the Tri-State Water War has witnessed a brief resolution.

Beware of sucker holes.  I say brief because a day later a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ press release corralled that bright sunny blue hole with thick clouds.  According to E. Patrick Robbins, “It’s important to note that this legal opinion only addresses whether the Corps has the legal authority to operate the project to accommodate Georgia’s” 2000 request for 705 million gallons per day from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River.  Furthermore, the legal jousting “does not in any manner indicate the Corps must, should or will” meet Georgia’s entire request.  As such, once the Corps determines how much water they can actually allocate in a public process that could take two to three years according to National Environmental Policy Act requirements, more legal challenges may yet ensue.

If Lake Lanier is metro’s water supply source, do we need more reservoirs?  According to the recently announced Forward Atlanta economic plan, as reported in the Saporta Report, the answer is yes.  The Metro Atlanta Chamber’s five-point twelve-year plan to stimulate the region’s lagging economy specifically supports the completion of reservoirs.  There are at least a half-dozen proposed reservoirs in or adjacent to the metro region, including one self-declared “shovel ready” boondoggle appropriately named Hard Labor.  Each one – paid for with taxpayer and escalating water utility ratepayer dollars – will supposedly jumpstart local economic development if people start occupying houses in a region that recently earned the number one slot for national home foreclosures, as noted by Jim Galloway.

Not so dam-fast.  Since Lake Lanier can now officially be used as a water supply cooler for metro Atlanta, that means that all of the little alleged water supply reservoirs (including proposed amenity lakes like Glades and South Fulton/Bear Creek) throughout the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) are not needed, as Georgia River Network’s April Ingle noted in the Athens Banner Herald and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Sally Bethea stated in this WABE interview.  The Supreme Court’s action also suggests that proposed Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin (Dawson Forest) or Altamaha basin (Hard Labor) reservoirs that would pump water via interbasin transfer (IBT) into the ACF basin are also unnecessary.  As I have noted before, Georgians can sometimes be susceptible to a “Faux Water Panic.”

Finally, we expect the Corps to strike a balance and to allocate water equitably for Georgia’s neighbors and all users throughout the ACF basin, and to respect Georgia’s request to assimilate wastewater and protect water quality downstream of Atlanta.

-Chris Manganiello

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