Gainesville – the Lake Lanier Association released today their first public statement after the release of the U.S. Supreme Court Special Master’s report related to the Florida v. Georgia Water Wars litigation. The statement is as follows:
Through the efforts of Governor Deal and the state’s legal team, Georgia took a major step toward victory in Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia for equitable apportionment of the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Rivers watershed.
Florida argued that Georgia’s excessive use of the water harmed the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay, and asked that Georgia’s water consumption be capped at 1992 levels. The Special Master rejected Florida’s request because the absence from the lawsuit of the Corps of Engineers, which controls water flow on the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers, made any remedy he could impose uncertain. But his report said that Georgia’s use of water for agriculture is “unreasonable,” which highlighted a basis for Florida to continue the fight on multiple fronts.
Florida’s latest action is a bill filed by U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) to block implementation of the updated Water Control Manual (WCM) based on the Corps’ final environmental impact statement. Instead, the bill would create a WCM “protecting and restoring thriving and diverse populations of the full range of native fish and wildlife species … through actions such as restoring the functions of natural systems and mimicking the timing, amount, and variability of natural flows.” Nelson’s bill would require that the new WCM be based on a study by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration of freshwater flows; be peer reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences; and be approved by numerous federal agencies.
Needless to say, Nelson’s goal ignores the purposes for which the ACF facilities were built and seeks to restore natural flows in what is now a very unnatural system, with unproven impact on the problems that Florida claims.
In view of the pressures that already exist on Lake Lanier, Nelson’s bill requires a significant response by Georgia, not only in defense of Lake Lanier and its importance to the Georgia economy, but against what would be a precedent-setting action by Congress to take control of a watershed system away from the Corps of Engineers.
LLA encourages Georgia’s congressional delegation to defeat the bill while it is still in committee. The delegation has been successful at blocking previous attempts to take control of the ACF by Alabama, and we remain optimistic that they will prevail in this instance as well.
But we also encourage Georgia’s leadership to re-examine existing agricultural irrigation practices. We can certainly expect Florida, and perhaps Alabama, to use the Special Master’s report in potential future legal and legislative actions.
We have now had three significant and historic droughts in 10 years in the ACF Basin. The increased incidence and severity of droughts calls for new thinking about how to best manage the ACF’s waters for everyone’s benefit. We must plan for droughts and put into practice policies that will minimize the impact from even more frequent and severe droughts in the future.
The intellectual and financial capital that has been spent on the tri-state water wars for almost 30 years could have paid for numerous infrastructure improvements throughout the basin that would have mitigated many of the problems we face.
Metro Atlanta has proven that infrastructure investments and better policies produce results. Georgia municipal and industrial water usage is the same today as it was in 1994 even after adding 1.6 million people. The Special Master commented on those results approvingly. The agriculture industry should accept the challenge to achieve similar result. We support implementing the irrigation efficiencies our agriculture industry needs in order to sustain our farms and protect Georgia’s water.
Lake Lanier and Georgia’s agricultural practices are inextricably connected. During droughts, irrigation usage requires increased discharges from Lake Lanier to meet the minimum required flows mandated by the Corps. Should Florida be successful at increasing those minimum required flows, the impact on Lake Lanier will be even more severe.
Lake Lanier is under pressure from numerous directions, not the least of which is the threat that the next lawsuit or bill may result in a win for those who want to use Lanier for purposes for which it was never intended. It is a limited resource for growing demands.
The Governor, General Assembly, and our congressional delegation should continue their defense of Lake Lanier against unbridled demands by supporting policies and infrastructure investment that help resolve the increasing and conflicting demands our water resources face by:
- supporting investments in available technologies to reduce water use for irrigation while continuing to support the agricultural economy;
- continuing improvements in municipal and industrial water conservation;
- supporting study of raising Lake Lanier full pool by 2 feet, assuring more resilience as a resource during droughts;
- serious consideration of correcting the inaccurately-marked border with Tennessee, enabling the possible use of excess Tennessee River flows to supplement the ACF;
- reducing inter-basin transfers to the Atlantic Ocean; and
- continuing to fight neighboring states’ efforts in Congress to take control of the ACF Basin.
Many of these are already in place and producing results. In view of the ongoing challenges we face, the LLA encourages them as key components of a strategy for Georgia’s water future.
Lake Lanier Association, Inc.