Georgia senators seek to undo judge’s favorable ruling for Florida

Two Georgia senators have introduced bills in Congress to overturn a federal judge’s ruling in 2009 that was favorable to Florida in the states’ lengthy battle over water.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. Alabama and Georgia want water for future growth while Florida wants water for fish and wildlife along the river and the seafood industry at Apalachicola Bay.

U. S. District Judge Paul A. Magnuson in July 2009 ruled that Georgia and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had illegally taken water from Lake Lanier, a huge federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta, without authorization from Congress. He gave the states three years to get congressional authorization before water use from Lake Lanier is essentially cut off.

On Thursday, Georgia senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, both Republicans, jointly introduced four pieces of legislation that they said would ensure that their state’s water needs are met as the state continues to negotiate a long term agreement. (Download their announcement by clicking here.)

Two pieces of legislation, SB 12 and SB 3911, would authorize water withdrawals from Lake Lanier for municipal and industrial water supplies.

Another bill would allow the Corps of Engineers to include water withdrawals from Lake Lanier in the update of a water control plan for the reservoir. The fourth bill would allow any counties that withdraw water from a reservoir to get credit for the treated wastewater they return to the reservoir.

“It’s critical that Georgia, Alabama and Florida come to an agreement on water resources that meets the needs of the three states,” Chambliss said. “From a federal standpoint, Senator Isakson and I will continue to explore additional avenues to support the negotiations and make sure Georgia has an adequate supply of water.”

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said through a spokesman: “This legislation isn’t going to see the light of day. What’s needed is a reasonable and comprehensive water-sharing agreement that promotes conservation and ensures protections are in place for Florida.”

Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Crist, said he would not have a comment on the bills this early in the legislative process.

Andy Smith, executive director of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper group, said the legislation suggests a lack of progress among the states in negotiating a solution. He said studies are needed to determine the river system’s ecological needs and its capacity to meet water supply needs.

“It seems like the states are still playing the cards purely to their advantage,” Smith said.

(Story provided by the Florida Tribune. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained by contacting