Water wars not over

Georgia wins, where’s the equity?

The Supreme Court recently let stand a federal appeals court decision that said water supply was a core mission of Lake Lanier, something legally disputed by Alabama and Florida. Today, a Florida conservationist writes that Atlanta may have won the battle but the war for equity goes on. Georgia leaders want to find a way to cooperate and forge a tri-state plan.

Tom Sabulis today’s moderator. Commenting is open following the column by Tad Leithead and Boyd Austin.

By Dan Tonsmeire

It certainly appears as though Atlanta won with last week’s Supreme Court ruling. Unfortunately, the prize is likely to be 10 more years of unproductive litigation and no end to the water wars between the states.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ unilateral interpretation of the Fish and Wildlife and Recreation authorizations will no doubt be challenged. The court did not address this authorization and left it up to the corps’ discretion. Georgia’s claim to all the water that falls on Georgia also remains in dispute.

By refusing to hear the appeal, the court upheld a previous appellate court decision and gave the corps an official green light to exercise its authority to manipulate Lake Lanier’s water use and provide Atlanta with all the water it needs, and then some.

If past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, the corps will indeed exercise this authority. Unfortunately, it once again will be at the expense of those living downstream whose survival depends on these waters just as much as the folks in Buckhead.

All the courts, lawyers and legal arguments in the world will not provide what Georgia, Alabama and Florida are thirsting for — a truly equitable plan to share the waters we all depend on. A practical water allocation plan can only come from those of us with a clear stake in the outcome, not from a Solomon-like court decision.

All of us have paid the price of the more than 22 years of litigation and have practically nothing to show for it except lawyer bills. After fighting so long, many wonder if it is even possible to divide up the water flow and effectively and sustainably manage its usage so that it is here for us, our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

I happen to believe that it is possible and that each of us has a responsibility to one another to do it. Courts hand down decisions, they do not create plans. No court will ever be able to do what we can do — develop a practical water management plan that provides real guidance to groups for sharing a resource that every individual has an equal right to use.

I know that such a plan is achievable because I have seen it firsthand in the progress made by the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint stakeholders. This forward-thinking group represents the individual economic and ecological interests of those living along the three divisions of the river. With a methodical and balanced approached to problem-solving, the stakeholders are making headway toward an equitable water allocation plan that will balance the interests of all three states.

The path to a solution that is fair to all three states does not go through the courts, but through intentional work toward the common good. The ACF stakeholders’ work must be supported along with all efforts toward an equitable and sustainable water management plan.

Dan Tonsmeire is Executive Director of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper in Apalachicola, Fla.

By Tad Leithead and Boyd Austin

Recently, Georgia and metro Atlanta got some very good news about legal issues in both the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basins.

The Supreme Court affirmed that Georgia has a legal right to continue using Lake Lanier for water supply. The next day, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued its opinion that it has the legal authority to accommodate Georgia’s request for additional withdrawals from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River. Finally, in the ACT, a federal judge dismissed Alabama’s claims challenging water supply operations at Lake Allatoona.

In the ACF, Alabama, Florida and the Southeast Federal Power Customers had long taken the position that water supply was not an “authorized purpose” of Lake Lanier. Last year, the 11th Circuit rejected those arguments by holding that water supply is a fully authorized purpose of Lake Lanier, along with flood control, hydropower and navigation. At the same time, the 11th Circuit charged the corps with determining its legal authority to grant Georgia’s 2000 request of 705 million gallons per day from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River. The corps concluded that it has the authority to grant the full request, although additional work is needed before the corps decides how much of the request to grant.

Legal issues surrounding Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona have impeded progress in both basins for more than 20 years. With water supply established as a fully authorized purpose of Lake Lanier, the corps can move forward with developing water control plans for both systems that balance the various stakeholders’ needs with protection of the environment. That process will involve an environmental analysis and comments from the public.

These recent decisions liberate metro Atlanta and Georgia to work with Florida, Alabama and the corps to develop plans that meet everyone’s reasonable water needs while protecting our natural resources. Our focus on conservation must be unwavering as we do so.

The Atlanta Regional Commission and the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District are mindful that the waters we depend on are shared resources. We have said for many years that water policy issues in the Southeast should be resolved using facts and sound science; politics and lawsuits have impeded the formulation of such a policy.

Our region anticipates adding some 3 million residents in the coming decades. These decisions mark a significant milestone in securing the water supply that is crucial to that future.

Now, as we endeavor with our neighbors to develop a fair and equitable water-sharing plan, we remain committed to good water stewardship.

The waters of the ACF and ACT sustain all who reside and do business in the basins. We stand ready to work with our neighbors to manage them wisely.

Tad Leithead is chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission. Boyd Austin is chairman of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.

15 comments Add your comment

The Pragmatist

July 7th, 2012
7:55 am

Let me say right up front so that you do not misunderstand my position on the TSPLOST. Not only No but HELL No.I am one of those few that has lived my entire life in Metro Atlanta. Regional transportation decisions are the correct way to approach our predicament. However, that option was forgone 40 years ago before the massive growth and extremely poor planning.Our planners, volunteers and politicians continue to miss the mark by thinking we can continue to expand with the limited resources available. If you consider the same set of planners are proclaiming the region will add 3 Million residents in the next few decades. There is not a politician or business “leader” out there that has the intestinal fortitude to stand up and say let’s look at the carrying capacity of the region in terms of all of the resources, including transportation. They will not make that decision, it potentially means their voting block will be limited, their business interests may be impacted or they simply are not equipped mentally to understand the root cause of our problem. The TSPLOST will not improve transportation in any manner these so called leaders are proclaiming. WHY would I say this, what are my credentials. I am a planning consultant and have been for the better part of 40 years. I have never witnessed such a fractured and dysfunctional planning process, planning agency and downright abject ignorance of elected officials. Two points for consideration. 1) The TSPLOST, if passed, will not fund all of the projects to a state of total completeness. Their must be additional taxation to full complete must every project on the list. 2) The projects once completed will require massive Federal dollars to provide for operating and continuing maintenance expenses. Do not believe me, go do your own homework. Ask your County Commissioner, Mayor, City Council member, State Legislator. I promise you will hear the most obtuse, confusing and deliberate mis-characterization of your life. Let us be honest with each other – LIES!! They cannot tell the truth because it would truly sentence the TSPLOST to an early and decisive death!

Ask your elected official one very simple question, how much Federal aid is required annually to maintain MARTA? If they are truthful and give you that number, take that number and divide it by the total number of riders in a year. This is the total dollars per rider that is required to be covered by Federal “welfare.” This is but one simple question to ask your elected official. It is easily extrapolated to most any of the projects in the TSPLOST menu. Personally, I think the Federal Government has enough debt responsibilities now!

Please vote but before you vote, please arm yourself with the facts, not the half truths, the visions of sugar plums and fairies that the “Untie Atlanta” Transportation Group is hoping you will swallow. By the way, their campaign is being partially funded by current taxes. So you are already being “required” to pay for their folly.

Hillbilly D

July 6th, 2012
8:22 pm


Dawson County doesn’t have the money to buy out the city of Atlanta. They were basically looking at a trade-off. Personally, I don’t think it’ll ever fly.

I provided a link that you might’ve liked to read but evidently that’s frowned on, here, as it was put in moderation.


July 6th, 2012
5:35 pm

The solution is to provide more water by building more reservoirs, but that cannot be done because of environmental obstructionism. Lake Lanier could never be built today. When we start to balance the survival of some obscure small fish species with the needs of human beings, we have wandered into the region of absurdity. It all follows from the philosophy of scientific materialism. If everything that exists is governed by scientific laws, there is no place for man. He does not fit into that system. As Jesus said, “The birds have nests, and the foxes have holes, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” If we accept the philosphical presuppositions of scientific materialism, then man harms the environment simply by existing. He has no right to cut down a tree to build a fire, or to kill an animal for food. Most people rightly regard that as absurd, but that is the philosophy guiding the environmentalist movement, and it is enjoying considerable success in the courts. American legislatures have generally refused to enact this nonsense. But the Environmental Protection Agency issues arbitrary bureaucratic decrees that are purposely vague, and then activists sue in court to obtain radical interpretations. The interpretation that Atlanta had no right to the water in Lake Lanier was radically absurd on its face.

In a worst-case scenario, we could purify sea water on an industrial scale. Under reasonable regulations, nuclear power is sufficiently plentiful and sufficiently cheap to make that feasible. But under the regulations that now exist, it is impossible to build a nuclear plant economically. The latest regulations arbitrarily enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency have made it impossible to build coal plants. We can be sure that they will next attack natural gas.

Unless we overthrow the tyranny of environmentalism, any attemp to resolve any problem regarding availability of resources is doomed.


July 6th, 2012
5:18 pm

What ever happen to the Dawson County reservoir plan? I thought they were going to buy out the City of Atlanta.

The Pragmatist

July 6th, 2012
3:41 pm

“Our region anticipates adding 3 million residents in the coming decades.” Our planning officials have done such a wonderful job in the past with planning for growth?? Traffic continues to be a nightmare. Marta, even if I dared to take it, is a financial flop! The planners and Governor “Which way did they go George” Deal want to increase the taxes by establishing a TSPLOST that has no formal goals, no accountability and certainly no way to sustain funding to maintain what ever is developed. And they want to add 3 million more residents??? And there is sufficient water to serve these 3 Million plus the nearly 4 Million that are here now? Leithead, Austin, Hooker, Deal, and the rest of you that obviously have yet to pass simple mathematics course need to slow your Goofy butts down and do a reality check. Oh and by the way, the Court and the Corps did not “authorize” the granting of storage for water supply. They only said they could do it. Georgia will still have to go through the formal process of requesting water storage which ultimately will require a Federal NEPA study that will allow all stakeholders including the States of Alabama and Florida and their legislative bodies to intervene. Guess what – Florida has the Endangered Species Act that trumps even the 11th Circuit decision!!! Oh my did we forget that? Good Luck to all those that think Georgia has won anything!!!