July 8, 2011
A Major Development in the Southeastern Water Wars
I've only blogged a very little bit about the on-going water conflict between Alabama, Georgia and Florida, but it's a very big deal around here. A recent 11th Circuit decision is worth noting. From an Atlanta Journal Constitution story:
The court threw out a 2009 ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson, who had found it was illegal for the Corps of Engineers to draw water from Lake Lanier to meet the needs of 3 million metro residents. In its decision Tuesday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that one of the purposes of the man-made reservoir about 45 miles upstream of Atlanta was to supply water to the metro region.
Alabama will appeal the ruling to the full Circuit Court.
Magnuson had also set a doomsday clock ticking for Georgia, Alabama and Florida to arrive at a water-sharing agreement. If the states could not reach a settlement by July 2012, Magnuson said, metro Atlanta would only be allowed to take the same amount of water it received in the mid-1970s -- when the population was less than one-third its current size.
That deadline is no longer in effect.
Instead, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals set a new deadline. It gave the corps one year to make a final determination over water allocation from Lake Lanier. And the court reminded the corps that the water litigation has already been going on for more than two decades...
Tad Leithead, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, said Magnuson's order posed a serious threat to metro Atlanta's water supply and noted the judge himself said his ruling could lead to a "draconian" result if the July 2012 deadline were not met.
"Had his ruling gone into effect in July 2012, the water supplies that millions of people depend on would have been cut off," Leithead said. "As a result of today’s action by the 11th Circuit, now that won’t happen."
Demming Bass, chief operating officer of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce, said the ruling takes uncertainty off the table in terms of recruiting businesses to locate to metro Atlanta.
"The good news is that because of Judge Magnuson's decision, it forced Georgia and Atlanta to come together and look at worst-case scenarios," Bass said. "It made us pass some great legislation that's going to help us conserve water and get plans in place to look at additional reservoirs, which is something we're going to need anyway."
If you're interested in reading the judge's 95 page ruling, it's available here.
Jamie Baker Roskie
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