Georgia loses Round 1 of Water Wars


On July 17, 2009 U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled against Georgia in the legal battle that has lasted for almost two decades over the water of Lake Lanier. Magnuson ruled that the Corps of Engineers has illegally allowed metro Atlanta to tap into Lake Lanier to quench the sprawling city’s thirst for drinking water, which has disturbed the fragile ecosystems of marine life downstream in Florida and Alabama.

While Congress approved of Atlanta’s use of Lake Lanier in 1970, it was only to be used for flood control, hydropower, and navigation. Since then, however, Lake Lanier has become a vital source of drinking water for metro Atlanta. Judge Magnuson ruled that the Corps of Engineers should have obtained approval from Congress before allowing Lake Lanier to become metro Atlanta’s primary water source.

Judge Magnuson is sending the case to Congress, giving a three-year time span for a political solution to be agreed upon. If by that time a compromise has not been reached, his order will take affect: only Gainesville and Buford will be allowed to withdraw water from Lake Lanier. In his ruling, Magnuson notes that this will have devastating effects for the greater Atlanta area stating, “The court recognizes that this is a draconian result. It is, however, the only result that recognizes how far the operation of the Buford project has strayed from the original authorization.”

It seems like Magnuson is trying to teach the Corps and Georgia officials a lesson. “Too often state, local and even national government actors do not consider the long-term consequences of their decisions,” he wrote in his 97-page order. “Local governments allow unchecked growth because it increases tax revenue, but these same governments do not sufficiently plan for the resources such unchecked growth will require.”

Florida and Alabama lawyers and officials need not gloat, however. As Cynthia Barnett, author of Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S. noted in an e-mail to the Miami Herald, water use in Atlanta’s 10-county metro region was about 120 gallons per person per day at its worst, while Florida’s statewide average is 158 gallons of water per person per day. Sounds like everyone could use a lesson in conservation and sustainability.
For a PDF of the Judge’s ruling visit this site.

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