Tri-State Water War

by Curt Burnett on August 4, 2009

ALBANY – Gov. Sonny Perdue will hold a meeting here Thursday to brief those in attendance about a recent federal court ruling that leaves Georgia’s future rights to the Chattahoochee River and Lake Lanier up to Congress.

Albany Herald, August 4 2009

I’m currently in Georgia, having come from Alabama yesterday. These two states along with Florida are the combatants in what has come to be called the “Tri-state water war”. This legal battle has contested Alabama and Florida against Georgia, which takes much of its Chattahoochee River water upstream of the other two states. Alabama wants to be sure that it has enough river water to cool some of its power generation processes, and Florida needs water near the mouth of the river to protect wildlife.

There was a key court ruling just over two weeks ago which was a major landmark in the ongoing legal combat between the states. The court ruled that Atlanta could no longer take water from Lake Lanier, one of the city’s most important sources, without permission from Congress. The reason is that the dam which created Lake Lanier was a federal project whose original stated purpose was to generate hydroelectric power, not create a reservoir for water extraction.

Georgia has been fairly agressive overall in promoting water conservation in irrigation (much of which is located in southwest Georgia and relies on Floridian Aquifer groundwater). It was one of the earliest states to mandate irrigation water metering, which is a key first step in reducing irrigation usage – as the old saying goes “you can’t control what you can’t measure”. Recently though the spotlight has been on urban use as Atlanta’s needs slowly lowered the level in Lake Lanier during intermittent drought years.

I’ll be writing more on this fascinating interstate water conflict in the near future, including the history of the two compacts that were created in an attempt to settle the issue.

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