Judge says Atlanta will have to stop taking Lake Lanier water

  • Follow Latest News

ATLANTA — A federal judge ruled today against Georgia in the state's water dispute with Alabama and Florida, deciding that Atlanta-area municipalities must stop withdrawing water from a massive federal reservoir within three years unless they can get approval from Congress.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson said Lake Lanier wasn't built for water supply and the state's withdrawals are illegal. He acknowledged it would be impossible to immediately stop using the lake because it is metro Atlanta's main water supply for 4 million people. But he said if the state can't get permission from Congress within three years, the withdrawals must end.

"The Court recognizes that this is a draconian result," Magnuson wrote. "It is, however, the only result that recognizes how far the operation of the (lake) has strayed from the original authorization."

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said the ruling would have a tremendous impact on his state's economic future.

"Atlanta has based its growth on the idea that it could take whatever water it wanted whenever it wanted it, and that the downstream states would simply have to make do with less," Riley said. "Following the Court's ruling today, this massive illegal water grab will be coming to an end."

The case involves a 2003 water-sharing agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers that would have allowed Georgia to take far more water from Lanier for its drinking supply over the coming decades. The deal would have allowed Georgia's withdrawals to jump from about 13 percent of the lake's capacity to about 22 percent.

Florida and Alabama contested the pact, saying the lake was initially built for hydropower and providing water to Georgia was not an authorized use.

Magnuson cited a lengthy historical record of testimony before Congress and Corps of Engineers documents to establish that serving Atlanta's water needs was only an incidental purpose for the lake. He noted that Georgia officials argued as much to avoid having to pay for part of the project when the reservoir was built in the 1950s.

Without congressional approval, the judge said the lake would return to 1970s levels, with only the cities of Gainesville and Buford allowed to take water. Others who get withdrawals just downstream from the reservoir would also see their water supplies drastically reduced.

The ruling could drive the states' governors back to the negotiating table — with Georgia in a weakened position — after a series of talks failed to yield a compromise in recent years.

Comments (2) Add comment
ADVISORY: Users are solely responsible for opinions they post here and for following agreed-upon rules of civility. Posts and comments do not reflect the views of this site. Posts and comments are automatically checked for inappropriate language, but readers might find some comments offensive or inaccurate. If you believe a comment violates our rules, click the "Flag as offensive" link below the comment.
scorehouse 07/17/09 - 05:24 pm
this will get interesting.

this will get interesting. what's the racial angle on this ruling? how can atlanta survive without water from lanier? obama to the rescue!

Fiat_Lux 07/17/09 - 05:53 pm
Secession is the way to go.

Secession is the way to go. Let the other states get water from their own rivers and lakes. If they need more, they can purchase our surplus, if there is one.

paulwheeler 07/17/09 - 08:13 pm
We'll have to see if the

We'll have to see if the federal courts have any say when Atlanta tries again to steal our Savannah water.

Back to Top
Search Augusta jobs
Top headlines
AU professor doing research on Gulf War health disparities
An Augusta University professor is being funded to do research on the health disparities of female veterans involved in the first Gulf War compared to their male counterparts.