Florida Denied More Water from Georgia’s Lake Lanier

Published August 6, 2010

The state of Florida’s concerns about Gulf sturgeon and two mussel species do not entitle the state to a greater share of water from a north Georgia dam, a federal judge has ruled.

Florida had hoped to receive a greater share of water diverted from Georgia’s Chattahoochee River to Florida’s Apalachicola River.

Evidence Properly Considered
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled it is not necessary to divert more water from Georgia to Florida to protect the fat three ridge mussel, the purple bank climber mussel, and the Gulf sturgeon, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act. 

The decision, however, does not entitle Georgia metropolitan areas to more drinking water from Lake Lanier. In a prior ruling, Magnuson had said he would severely restrict Atlanta’s use of Lake Lanier water in 2012 unless Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, reach a deal to end 30 years of legal clashes over the lake’s water.

In his July 21 decision, Magnuson ruled Florida had failed to show federal wildlife officials improperly ignored scientific evidence when rejecting Florida’s request for more Lake Lanier water.

“They merely contend that the ultimate conclusion is incorrect,” Magnuson explained.

Impact Statement Required
Magnuson did agree with Florida’s argument that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct and produce a proper Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) regarding its management of Lake Lanier water.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection deputy press secretary Dee Ann Miller said the state is happy with Magnuson’s ruling regarding the environmental impact statement.

“While Florida disagrees with Judge Magnuson’s assessment that the Fish and Wildlife Service properly performed its Endangered Species Act obligations, it is clear that the Corps must prepare an EIS for the whole of its reservoir operations as Florida has requested,” said Miller.

Georgia, Alabama Praise Decision
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue (R) hailed the court’s decision in a July 22 press release.

“Any kind of higher guaranteed flow for Florida would have put a strain on Georgia communities up and down the Chattahoochee River. We always felt the use of the Endangered Species Act was just a ruse to try and wring more water out of Georgia.”

Purdue said the court’s “common sense” ruling should allow the three states to continue “meaningful talks” regarding the distribution of water from Lake Lanier.

Alabama Governor Bob Riley (R) also hailed the court’s decision. “This is another victory for Alabama’s position in the water-war litigation,” said Riley in a July 21 press statement.

Tri-State Water War
Florida, Georgia, and Alabama have been engaged in longstanding litigation over waters in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint River basins.

In July 2009, Magnuson ruled Congress must approve water usage from Lake Lanier, and therefore it is illegal for the Corps to use Lake Lanier for Atlanta’s water supply. Water distribution has been frozen at its current levels for three years. If the three states cannot work out an agreement on sharing of water resources by 2012, water withdrawals will revert back to “base line” operations of the 1970s, according to Magnuson’s 2009 ruling.

Florida Considers Appeal
Miller says Florida may appeal the portion of Magnuson’s decision denying the state a greater share of water.

“Florida has 60 days to appeal the Phase Two Order and will be reviewing it in greater detail to determine the appropriate course of action,” said Miller.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.