On Monday, the US Supreme Court handed Georgia a victory in the ongoing battle for the right to use water from Lake Lanier to supplement Atlanta’s water supply. By declining to hear appeals of an 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, the Supreme Court has cleared the way for continuing negotiations between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida over each state’s claim to water from Lake Lanier. More importantly, the ruling stays the three-year countdown clock initiated by the federal judge who initially heard the case.
The fight began when a federal judge determined that the Army Corps of Engineers had no right to allocate water from Lake Lanier to the city of Atlanta. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling overturned the federal judge—stating in no uncertain terms that the states themselves must work out a water rights agreement—paving the way for the Supreme Court to either re-hear arguments in the case, or decline to consider the appeal and leave the Circuit Decision in place; the latter being the course of action the justices chose to take.
While the ruling does not definitively assign water rights, it does clear the way for further negotiation and—more importantly—allows Atlanta’s three million metro residents to continue to use the lake for drinking water while the three states hash out the details of their water-sharing plan.
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at a Rotary Club of Atlanta meeting, Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, applauded the Court’s decision, stating, “That danger is gone now. It's time to sit down with our friends in Alabama and Florida. The gun’s been removed from our head now. We can go sit down and resolve this."
"We can legally drink the water of Lake Lanier," Williams cheerfully declared.
Not all the parties involved are overjoyed with the Court’s decision. A spokesman for Alabama, Governor Robert Bentley told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “This is just one step on a long road. There are many critical issues related to reliable river flows still to be decided, and Alabama will continue to fight to ensure that downstream communities receive the amount of water to which they are entitled under federal law.”
In the meantime, in Georgia the search continues for new ways to supplement Atlanta’s water supply, including the construction of new reservoirs and the development of additional groundwater sources. And of course, as always, water conservation and demand reduction are expected to play a key role in the city’s water resource management.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Kasim Reed told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “The city is confident with the ruling.”
For Water Efficiency’s previous coverage on the battle for Lake Lanier, check out these past articles and blog entries: