Tri-State Water Wars

For more than two decades, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have been in various disputes concerning the use of two shared river basins—the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT). These river systems are used to meet multiple needs, including drinking water, power generation, agriculture, aquaculture, navigation, and recreation.

ACT and ACF River Basins

Surface waters from the ACF and ACT River Basins are critical for meeting metro Atlanta’s water supply needs because our access to groundwater is limited due to the granite geology underlying our region. While rainfall in metro Atlanta is generally abundant, river flows are not always sufficient to meet the area’s water supply needs.  Therefore, we depend on our ability to store water in two reservoirs operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to provide safe and clean water supplies for our residents and businesses. The two major reservoirs we rely upon are Lake Lanier, located in the ACF Basin and Allatoona Lake, located in the ACT Basin.

The “Tri-State Water Wars” litigation began in 1990 when Alabama sued the Corps to prevent it from providing additional water to metro Atlanta from Lake Lanier and Allatoona Lake.  It evolved and changed over time, with various parties filing lawsuits to challenge the Corps’ plans for managing the ACF and ACT Basins.  Today, it is focused on three basic areas:

  • ACF Supreme Court Litigation:  In 2014, the State of Florida brought suit against the State of Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court. Florida is asking the Supreme Court for “equitable apportionment” of the waters of the ACF Basin restricting Georgia’s water use to 1992 levels. That case is now being presented to a Special Master appointed by the Court to direct the proceedings in the case. 

    The case is Florida v. Georgia, No. 142 Original. The Supreme Court’s docket can be accessed here, while filings in the Special Master’s proceeding are available here.
  • ACT Water Control Manual:  In May 2015, the Corps adopted a new Master Water Control Manual for the ACT Basin, including Allatoona Lake.  The State of Georgia, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority have sued the Corps for failing to act on water supply requests that have been pending since 1981, and for failing to consider or analyze water supply alternatives as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.  The State of Alabama and Alabama Power Co. have filed separate suits against the Corps challenging various aspects of the Corps’ management of Allatoona Lake. 

    The cases are Georgia v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, No. 1:14-cv-3593 (N.D. Ga.), Alabama v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1:15-cv-696 (D.D.C.), and Alabama Power Co. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 1:15-cv-699 (D.D.C.).  Filings in the cases may be downloaded through the federal courts’ Pacer system.
  • ACF Water Control Manual:  In September 2015, the Corps released a draft Master Water Control Manual and Environmental Impact Statement for the ACF Basin.  This draft explains how the Army proposes to operate the ACF Basin reservoirs, including how much water it intends to provide from Lake Lanier to metro Atlanta.  It responds to a key decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011, which dismissed challenges by Alabama, Florida and others to the Corps’ water supply operations and ruled that Congress intended Lake Lanier to be used as a water supply source for metro Atlanta.  A final version of the manual is expected in 2017.

For more detailed information, click here.

Last updated September 2015

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