Georgia has spent decades fending off attempts by those states to restrict the amount of water we can withdraw from Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona. They say our withdrawals are hurting people, wildlife and industries downstream. And a lower-court decision in 2009 by federal district Judge Paul Magnuson threatened to restrict the metro area’s withdrawals from Lanier to what even that judge described as “Draconian” 1975 levels, had that ruling stood. According to Magnuson, the dam was built for flood control, navigation and hydroelectric power — not as a reservoir for drinking water.
Fortunately Magnuson’s ruling was overturned last year by an appeals panel of federal judges in Atlanta. And the Supreme Court last week chose not to take the case, meaning that the 2011 ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will stand.
“By denying a hearing of the decision of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the tri-state water case, the nation’s highest court has affirmed that drinking water was always an authorized use of Lake Lanier,” said Gov. Nathan Deal. “We felt confident in the firm grounding of the Eleventh Circuit ruling. We can now move forward with this issue behind us, have the governors work together and come to a long-term agreement that will provide for the water needs of all three states.
It’s a crucial win for our state.
“In contrast to July 2009 when a gun was to our head with Judge Magnuson’s order, the 11th Circuit decision put us on a level playing field and today’s decision really presents the great opportunity for the three governors to get together and finally resolve 20 plus years of litigation,” Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens told the Marietta Daily Journal. “Heretofore Alabama and Florida would say we don’t want to negotiate with you unless it’s totally on our terms because we want the next court to rule. Well the next court, meaning the nation’s highest court, did rule today so now there is nothing to be gained by further delays.”
Last week’s win does not mean that north Georgia is “out of the woods,” so to speak, when it comes to assuring itself an adequate supply of water. Neither does it mean that water-use restrictions are no longer needed, nor that residents and businesses no longer need to worry about conservation. As has often been noted, no other metro area in the world is as reliant on a single, small major water source as Atlanta is on the Chattahoochee. We are but one severe drought or one major water contamination incident from again being on the brink of catastrophe.
Now that all three states are on equal legal footing, this is the time to finally work out an equitable agreement for the division of water resources.
As Olens put it, “Now is the best opportunity we’ve had in decades to finally settle the case.”