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22 January 2020

Water Wars

Written by Senator John Albers

Over the summer months, most of us probably took part in some of the many outdoor recreation opportunities that our state has to offer. Some of the most popular summer activities include boating on Lake Lanier, tubing down the Chattahoochee River, or fishing in one of the many tributaries and rivers that make up the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin.

While these waterways are a great place for families to have fun, they are also vital in ensuring our state has adequate drinking water and that our farms receive the proper amount of irrigation. But for more than three decades, our ability to continue using these waterways to best benefit Georgians has been in jeopardy due to an ongoing dispute with officials in Florida and Alabama.

Commonly referred to as the “water wars,” this dispute involves water rights in the ACF River Basin. The dispute began in the 1980s when Georgia and other key stakeholders conducted a multiyear study to look at how metro Atlanta communities could meet their water supply needs. The study concluded that the most environmentally sensitive and cost-effective solution was for metro Atlanta communities to use water stored in Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona. The “Tri-State Water Wars Litigation” began when Alabama sued the Corps to prevent them from finalizing this plan. Georgia and Florida joined the litigation, and it was stayed several months later to give the states and the Corps time to negotiate.

The water wars escalated in 2013 when Florida sued Georgia at the Supreme Court level, seeking to impose a cap on Georgia’s water usage in the ACF River Basin. Concerned that if Georgia used too much water it could negatively impact Florida’s oyster industry and overall ecology, Florida specifically called for “equitable apportionment” of the waters. This complaint entered the oral argument phase in early 2018, and as a result of those hearings, the Supreme Court ordered a special master to revisit certain aspects of the case.

On December 12, 2019, a federal judge ruled in favor of the State of Georgia and recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court dismiss the case that Florida brought against Georgia nearly six years ago. While it represents a major victory, keep in mind that this decision is only a recommendation by a federal judge to the United States Supreme Court. Ultimately, it is up to the Supreme Court to either follow the recommendation of the special master and dismiss the case or recommend an alternative judicial action. While the end of the “water wars” may not yet be in sight, this decision provides hope that Georgians will be allowed to continue to utilize our water resources however our state sees fit.

Why is this issue important to those in the northern suburbs? Having an adequate water supply is critical to the long-term success of our community and economy. The next order of business is to validate the Georgia state line to the correct location and access the Tennessee river. I am committed to ensuring we have access to these important resources.

About the Author

Senator John Albers

Senator John Albers

Senator John Albers represents the 56th Senate District, which includes portions of North Fulton county. 404-463-8055, John.Albers@Senate.Ga.gov.