MONTGOMERY, AL - Governor Bob Riley is praising a major victory after the state won Friday in water wars litigation involving Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
A federal court in Jacksonville ruled that the current water withdrawals from Lake Lanier to provide water supply to the Atlanta area are illegal under federal law.
"The significance of today's ruling for Alabama's economic and environmental future is tremendous," said Governor Riley. "Atlanta has based its growth on the idea that it could take whatever water it wanted whenever it wanted it, and that the downstream states would simply have to make do with less. Following the Court's ruling today, this massive illegal water grab will be coming to an end.
"Now that these critical legal issues have been resolved, I hope this sets the stage for renewed negotiations between the three states so that a fair and equitable agreement to share the water can be reached," said Governor Riley. "Any congressional approval for Atlanta's water supply withdrawals will have to be tied to a comprehensive agreement among the states. Alabama is ready to resume negotiations immediately."
Alabama filed suit in 1990 challenging the operations of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Alabama has always contended that Lake Lanier was built for the purposes of flood control, hydropower generation, and navigation support. Based upon the Water Supply Act of 1958, Alabama argued that Congress had to approve any substantial usage of Lake Lanier for water supply, but no such congressional approval has ever been obtained.
Today Judge Paul Magnuson agreed with Alabama, ruling that only Congress could approve such a massive use of water from Lake Lanier by Atlanta-area entities. Judge Magnuson ordered that all water withdrawals be frozen at current levels for the next three years. If Congress does not approve a reallocation within that period, then water withdrawals from Lake Lanier will revert to the much lower levels of the mid-1970s.
This decision comes on the heels of a 2008 ruling from the federal appellate court in Washington, D.C. that struck down a secret agreement between the Corps and Georgia to dedicate even more of Lake Lanier to Atlanta's water supply in the future.