The ACT Litigation and the Corps’ Updated Water Control Manual

The Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority (CCMWA) and others rely on water stored in Allatoona Lake to meet their municipal and industrial water supply needs. CCMWA withdraws water stored in Allatoona Lake under a storage contract that it signed in 1963, which authorizes CCMWA to store up to 13,140 acre-feet of water in the reservoir. (An acre-foot is the volume of water required to cover one acre in water one foot deep, or about 325,851 gallons.)

In 1981, CCMWA requested to purchase additional storage in Allatoona Lake, asking the Corps to proceed “as rapidly as possible” on the request. The Corps completed its review of CCMWA’s request in 1989. At that time, the Corps proposed to “reallocate” 34,864 acre-feet of storage in Allatoona Lake so that it could be used by CCMWA and others for water supply storage. The Corps’ recommendation was based on the findings of its study report and its determination that there would “be no significant environmental impacts” as a result. 

Alabama sued the Corps in 1990 to block it from finalizing the recommendation. Like the ACF litigation filed by Alabama, Florida, and others, Alabama’s claims in the ACT Basin were ultimately dismissed in 2012. However, there has been no action by the Corps on CCMWA’s request since it was submitted in 1981.

In the intervening years, CCMWA and its retail customers have invested heavily in projects designed to reduce water supply needs through conservation, and to increase the amount of water CCMWA can store in Allatoona Lake. These projects minimize environmental impacts and maximize the use of existing infrastructure by supplementing the amount of water flowing into CCMWA’s storage space in the reservoir. For example, highly treated, reclaimed water is now collected and returned to the reservoir for reuse. Likewise, CCMWA has constructed the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir upstream of Allatoona Lake. This project will release water for withdrawal by CCMWA to supplement its Allatoona Lake supplies. However, CCMWA needs action from the Corps before these measures can be fully implemented.

In November 2014, the Corps released an updated master water control manual and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the ACT Basin. Unfortunately, the updated manual and EIS fail to address CCMWA’s request for additional storage and many other issues related to water supply. As the Corps has recognized, populations and the demand for water resources in the ACT Basin have changed substantially in the years since the federal reservoirs were authorized and constructed. Thus, the Corps is required to update its master water control manual for the ACT Basin to take into account changes in demands due to years of growth and development. However, despite the Corps’ acknowledgement that separate action on these water supply issues is needed, the Corps formally adopted the updated manual in May 2015 without correcting these deficiencies.

The State of Georgia, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and CCMWA have filed suit in federal court in Georgia against the Corps based on its failure to act on water supply issues at Allatoona Lake. They have also challenged the Corps’ failure to consider and analyze water supply alternatives as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The case is State of Georgia v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Civil Action No. 1:14-cv-3593 (N.D. Ga. filed Nov. 7, 2014). Separately, the State of Alabama and Alabama Power have also filed suit against the Corps in federal court in Washington, D.C. These suits challenge the Corps’ compliance with NEPA, as well the operational rules adopted by the Corps. The consolidated case is Alabama et al. v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Civil Action No. 1:15-cv-696 (D.D.C. filed May 7, 2015).  The cities of Montgomery and Mobile, Alabama have also intervened in this case.  

 

A timeline of relevant events is below:

  • 1981
    CMWA requests that the Corps reallocate storage in Allatoona Lake to water supply. CCMWA asks the Corps to take action “as rapidly as possible,” but the Corps fails to act on the request in response to Alabama’s lawsuit.

  • 2012 
    CCMWA renews its request for action by the Corps on water supply issues at Allatoona Lake, including its request for additional storage in the reservoir.

  • January 2013 
    Georgia submits a revised water supply request for the ACT Basin, seeking additional water supply storage in Allatoona Lake and other changes to water supply operations.

  • March 2013 
    The Corps issues draft water control manuals for the ACT Basin and Allatoona Lake without addressing water supply needs in Georgia.

  • November 2014 
    The Corps publicly releases the updated Master Water Control Manual and Final Environmental Impact Statement for the ACT Basin.

    The Atlanta Regional Commission, CCMWA, and the State of Georgia file lawsuits against the Corps. The suits stem from the Corps’ failure to act on water supply requests at Allatoona Lake that have been pending for more than 30 years. They seek an order from the court directing the Corps to address water supply issues at Allatoona Lake by a date certain. 

  • May 2015 
    The Corps formally adopts the updated Master Water Control Manual for the ACT Basin.

    The Atlanta Regional Commission, CCMWA, and the State of Georgia amend their complaints to challenge the Corps’ adoption of the new Master Water Control Manual for the ACT Basin. The amended complaints include challenges to the Corps’ failure to analyze reasonable alternatives for meeting CCMWA’s water supply needs as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

    Alabama and Alabama Power also file suit against the Corps in Washington, D.C., challenging the new Master Water Control Manual for the ACT Basin. The consolidated suit challenges the Corps’ compliance with National Environmental Policy Act and its operational rules for Allatoona Lake, including its decision to adjust hydropower release schedules and its alleged failure to operate the project to mitigate water quality impacts from wastewater discharges downstream in Alabama.

  • August 2016 
    The Georgia Parties file a motion for summary judgment asking the court to order the Corps to respond to the outstanding water supply requests at Allatoona Lake. They also ask the court to vacate the 2015 Master Water Control Manual because it fails to address Georgia’s water supply needs.

  • December 2016 
    Summary judgment briefing in the Atlanta Regional Commission, CCMWA, and the State of Georgia’s case is scheduled to be complete.  

 

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