Tri-State Water Conflict
On June 26, 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers responded to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals by determining that it had discretion to operate Lake Lanier in order to meet Georgia’s 2000 request for 705 million gallons of water per day (MGD) in order to satisfy 2030 drinking water demands. Read the Corps decision here. The Corps’ analysis came a day after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear Alabama and Florida’s appeal of the Eleventh Circuit 2011 decision.
The degree to which the Corps will grant Georgia’s request will depend on several factors, including the agency’s ability to provide downstream releases from Buford Dam to satisfy the water supply needs of downstream communities while leaving enough water in the Chattahoochee to dilute metro Atlanta’s treated wastewater. Learn more about CRK’s efforts to monitor water quality in the river below Buford dam here.
The Corps will now resume efforts to update the Water Control Manual which governs its dam operations throughout the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river basin. The update process may take five years and will include preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Throughout the EIS process, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper will work with our partners to ensure healthy river flows that protect fish, wildlife, recreation, and downstream communities, as well as metro Atlanta's drinking water. CRK also will continue advocating for water conservation as the most cost-effective, sustainable means of reducing the consumptive demands placed on the ACF system.
History of the Dispute
For the last 20 years, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have fought over the use of water in the ACF river basin, which is heavily influenced by the Corps’ operation of Lanier’s Buford Dam. Lake Lanier lies within the Chattahoochee’s headwaters, just north of Atlanta.
The Corps built Lanier in the 1950s with clear Congressional authorization for flood control, navigation, and hydropower. Over time, however, Lanier has become the primary source of drinking water for metro Atlanta, and Alabama and Florida have argued that Georgia withdraws too much and isn’t sharing the water fairly. All three states have turned to the courts to try to resolve the conflict.
In 2009, a federal district judge ruled against Georgia, deciding that water supply was not an authorized purpose of Lanier. The judge gave Georgia three years to reach a water sharing agreement with Alabama and Florida and get Congressional approval.
In 2011, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the federal district court decision, ruling that water supply is an authorized purpose of Lanier, on par with hydropower, navigation, and flood control. The appellate court also vacated the lower court’s three-year deadline, and instead gave the Corps just one year to determine the extent to which it could operate Lanier to meet water supply and the other authorized purposes.
What is CRK doing and What Can You Do?
In 2010, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Coosa River Basin Initiative, and Flint Riverkeeper issued a call to action to state leaders, insisting on a change of course to resolve the conflict and secure metro Atlanta’s future water supply. Together we issued a three-point plan for resolving the tri-state water conflict without sacrificing Georgia's rivers or the communities that depend upon them. The plan, Charting a New Course for Georgia’s Water Security, has been endorsed by all of Georgia's riverkeepers.
CRK is also a founder and leader of the Tri-State Conservation Coalition (TSCC). The TSCC consists of 40 organizations from Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and across the southeast, all dedicated to protecting and restoring water quality, biodiversity, and recreation in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River Basins.
CRK is also a member of the ACF Stakeholders group, a diverse group of people representing both the private and the public sector, all seeking an equitable and sustainable water management plan for the ACF basin.
In 2011, CRK issued a report outlining metro Atlanta’s water conservation progress to date and recommending future conservation actions, Filling the Water Gap: Conservation Successes and Missed Opportunities in Metro Atlanta. Late summer we will release our updated 2012 report, again highlighting success stories and identifying areas in need of improvement.
We all can help alleviate the water crisis and secure a sustainable future for the ACF by embracing water conservation and efficiency measures. To learn more, visit CRK’s No Time to Waste page.
For more information about our efforts to resolve the Tri-State Water Conflict, contact Water Policy Director Laura Hartt at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (404) 352-9828 ext. 15.