A federal judge is complaining that a protracted battle over the water flowing from a reservoir near Atlanta has been taking place in what he refers to as “never-never land.” U.S. District Judge Paul Manguson, who now has the case, is attempting to unravel 19 years of litigation between Florida, Georgia and Alabama over water from Lake Lanier, which is Atlanta’s water supply, and which flows into the other two states. Alabama and Florida want to increase the amount of water released from Lake Lanier to benefit downstream power plants, farms and other businesses in their states.
Judge Manguson, who is based in Minnesota, is now in charge of the case. He has not indicated when he will rule on the legality of water supply allocations by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But he did criticize the Corps for its part in the delays, saying that it has been sitting on this case with little to show for its efforts. The Corps is saying now that an environmental impact study will take another three years. A lawyer for the Justice Department told the judge there had been no action in the case for almost a dozen years because the states had been trying to work out an agreement on their own. I don’t believe the judge bought that argument.
For those of our readers who haven’t kept up with this litigation, the dispute centers on how much water the Army Corps of Engineers holds back in federal reservoirs near the head of the Chattahoochee and Flint river basins in north Georgia. The rivers flow south into Alabama and then into Florida, where they join to become the Apalachicola River. The Atlanta region relies on the lakes for drinking water, while Florida and Alabama depend on healthy flows downstream for commercial fisheries, oyster beds, farms, industrial users and municipalities. Obviously, each state has a valid argument for their respective positions. The Corps also is required to release adequate flows to ensure habitats for species protected by the Endangered Species Act and that adds another factor to the puzzle.
Matt Lemke, a lawyer with Birmingham-based Bradley Arant, who is representing Alabama, says the Corps of Engineers failed to comply with the Water Supply Act. Many of the arguments presented by the states centered on actions at the time the dam was being planned way back in 1946. Florida and Alabama argued the dam was built for hydroelectric power, flood control and navigation. But Georgia argued the reservoir was built as a water supply for the Atlanta area. Regardless of which state is correct, this is an issue that should have been resolved at the outset. In fact, this case should have been either settled or tried years ago. Hopefully, a workable agreement will come about very soon!
Source: Associated Press
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