Case Watch

Here's One Way To Undermine Any Effort to Peacefully Resolve the Water Wars

The disorganization in how to handle the disagreement between Florida, Georgia, and Alabama over water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Water Basin (ACF Basin) was made apparent again today in an article from the AJC. US Senator Richard Shelby, a Republican from Alabama, has apparently inserted language into the current federal spending bill asking the US Department of Justice to investigate all federal water contract violations. This is similar to language that has previously been introduced in various federal bills by Senator Shelby.

The motivation is clear: Alabama is upset with how the US Army Corps of Engineers is interpreting federal statutes that instruct the Corps to manage water quantity in the ACF Basin and wants the Justice Department to intervene. In 2011, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled a Florida District Court to allow the Corps to continue to allocate water in the Basin in such a manner as to provide Atlanta with adequate drinking water. Unsurprisingly, since this allocation is often at the expense of downstream interests, that decision did not sit well with Florida or Alabama.

Taking the disagreement to a spending bill in the US Congress completely undermines any effort to reach a three-state agreement on how to manage water in the Basin. It’s similar to the Georgia Assembly passing a resolution several sessions ago to agree to investigate how to annex portions of Tennessee so as to gain access to the Tennessee River. Both are examples of sneaky ways to circumvent cooperation and take what you want, which fundamentally are bad-faith efforts to reach compromise. The representatives of each state, from the local to the federal level, appear to be on different pages; state representatives do one thing, governors do another, and US representatives go and do a third thing. This is not a desirable state of affairs when what we need is more cooperation.

Ultimately the real problem is that no progress is being made in actually reaching a peaceful resolution. It doesn’t appear the states have made any additional effort to get together. Florida and Georgia still have their water allocation case pending in the US Supreme Court and we continue to see each state attempting to make internal changes to address the problems. Those changes include more conservation efforts and land use controls, which clearly are necessary, but ultimately the states cannot solve this regional problem by only addressing issues within their own borders.

This was just a quick take on an update in an on-going issue. We have much more in-depth coverage of the fight over the ACF Basin resources on our Water Wars page. It contains three articles addressing the background situation and the current Supreme Court case, so please check it out.

Cover Photo: Lake Lanier by SustainAtlanta

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