On May 13, 2015 the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders (ACFS) approved a Sustainable Water Management Plan to promote equitable water management of the three rivers system.
For more than twenty years, CRK has been a key stakeholder in the water conflict between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida and an active member of ACFS since its incorporation in 2009. The Sustainable Water Management Plan developed over a 6 year period is now available and can be found here.
Developed with thousands of volunteer and technical professional hours, the SWMP represents the first water management plan for the entire ACF Basin. It offers an adaptive framework for managing our lakes and rivers that aims to support aquatic life, maintain water quality, and improve recreation while still meeting consumptive needs such as drinking water, thermal power cooling, industry and agriculture.
While this plan is an important first step in resolving this conflict, there is still much work to do. CRK is committed to seeing this plan implemented and improved as we learn more about the river system through adaptive management.
On November 3, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear Florida’s petition requesting the Court to appoint a “special master” to allocate water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF)Basin. Florida had filed their petition on September 25, 2013 seeking relief to help alleviate increased salinity levels in the Bay due in part to Georgia’s water consumption upstream.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is updating the ACF Water Control Manual which governs its dam operations throughout the ACF Basin. The update process includes preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Throughout the EIS process, CRK is working with our partners to ensure healthy river flows that protect fish, wildlife, recreation, and downstream communities. CRK also is advocating for water conservation as the most cost-effective, sustainable means of reducing the consumptive demands placed on the ACF system.
History of the Dispute
For the last 20 years, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have fought over the use of water in the ACF Basin, which is heavily influenced by the Corps’ operation of Lake Lanier’s Buford Dam. Lanier lies within the Chattahoochee’s headwaters, just north of Atlanta.
The Corps built Lanier in the 1950s with clear Congressional authorization for flood control, navigation, and hydropower. Over time, however, Lanier has become the primary source of drinking water for metro Atlanta, and Alabama and Florida have argued that Georgia withdraws too much and isn’t sharing the water fairly. All three states have turned to the courts to try to resolve the conflict. Key litigation milestones include:
- In 2009, a federal district judge ruled against Georgia, deciding that water supply was not an authorized purpose of Lanier. The judge gave Georgia three years to reach a water–sharing agreement with Alabama and Florida and get Congressional approval.
- In 2011, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the federal district court decision, ruling that water supply is an authorized purpose of Lanier, on par with hydropower, navigation, and flood control. The appellate court vacated the lower court’s decision, and instead gave the Corps just one year to determine the extent to which it could operate Lanier to meet water supply and the other authorized purposes.
- In 2012, the Corps responded to the Eleventh Circuit, determining it has discretion to operate Lanier in order to meet Georgia’s current and future water demands. The degree to which the Corps may fulfill Georgia’s request is contingent on its ability to provide downstream releases from Buford Dam in order to satisfy other authorized purposes and to comply with the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act.