Okay, I don’t care who you are, that’s funny…if you are a water geek! I had not planned for the second in the series of Unintended Water Consequences to be another dam and lake, but with the recent court ruling about water rights this one jumped to the front of the line.
Located in northeast Georgia, Buford Dam and Lake Sidney Lanier were built in the early 1950’s for the benefit of the public. In the words of the Army Corp of Engineers, “The Lake provides electric power, water, flood protection, and navigation while providing recreational opportunities to millions of users, as well as a sanctuary for fish, animal, and plant life.”
So, what’s the BIG DEAL?
It’s called the economics of water – drink vs. power vs. aquaculture rights. Who/what deserves water more or deserves more water?
Florida wants enough water to flow from Lanier into the Apalachicola Bay to provide a healthy environment for federally protected fish and mussel species (really or just another point to hang their legal hat on), and to maintain its oyster harvest (the real/economic reason). Alabama wants enough water to maintain the operation of a nuclear power plant while Atlanta wants drinking water. What started out as a post WW II government idea became a bad taxpayer funded project that keeps sucking taxpayer resources with over 20 years of court cases between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
So, what’s the PROBLEM?
Water flows into Lake Lanier from numerous creeks, streams and rivers forming the watershed for Lake Lanier. The drainage area is approximately 1,040 square miles which is relatively small for 73 square miles of surface water at normal pool. (14:1 ratio) In extended times of low rainfall the needs/wants of the people downstream exceeds the water flowing into the lake.
So, what’s the LEGAL ISSUE?
While the legality of the water rights of Lake Lanier has been a court issue since 1990, it accelerated in 2007-2008 when the southeast experienced an extreme drought and water-poverty got angry at water-wealth, a phenomenon known as water-envy. In 2009 a judge set a doomsday clock ticking for Georgia, Alabama and Florida to arrive at a water-sharing agreement. If the states could not reach a settlement by July 2012 then metro Atlanta would only be allowed to withdraw the same amount of water it received in the mid-1970s when the population was less than 1/3 its current size.
So, What CHANGED?
In June 2011, The 11th Circuit panel ruled unanimously the Lake was built for the purpose of water supply for the metro Atlanta area. Before Buford Dam was built, the Chattahoochee River supplied almost all of Atlanta’s water. According to the court, the building of the dam posed a threat to the city if the corps intended to shut off water flow from the river for extended periods of time.
“Congress very clearly did not intend the dam to harm the city’s water supply,” the court said. The language of the Rivers and Harbors Act, which authorized the dam’s construction, “clearly indicates that water supply was an authorized purpose of the Buford Project.”
So, what’s NEXT?
The Court told the Army Corp to develop a plan to include supplying drinking water in 12 months. But more tax dollars will surely be spent. While the 95 page ruling was unanimous from a 3 judge panel, Alabama is expected to appeal the ruling to the full 11th Circuit for all 10 judges (currently filled seats with 2 vacancies) to hear.
So, who CARES?
While this case has major implications for growth, development, energy, and economics in the tri-state area, the legal implications and precedent will impact other states with water issues. Good water management practices at all levels is integral to help reduce water related stress and lawsuits. Good water management begins with YOU.
…TO BE CONTINUED IN JULY 2012 and beyond
PS – An Imbedded Unintended Water Consequence
The State of Georgia, who has the most to lose if the ruling goes against them, actually kicked off the Lake Lanier project by funding the completion of the initial planning and design phases of the project including the powerhouse design and initial start of construction. Can you say Irony?
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