High court says ‘no-go’

Published 7:43 pm Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bainbridge and other cities downstream from Atlanta in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin should see their river levels remain stable, as the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Georgia’s proposal to draw more drinking water from Lake Lanier.

On Monday, the Supreme Court denied a request from Georgia for the high court to review part of the ongoing tri-state “water wars.” At issue was the State of Georgia’s 2003 agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would have allowed more water to be withdrawn from Lake Lanier in North Georgia. A lower federal court had ruled the Corps of Engineers did not have the authority to use the lake for that reason.

The lake’s original authorized purposes were to provide hydroelectricity and flood control. Drinking water was later added as a secondary purpose. Under the 20-year agreement, which had been proposed, the metro-Atlanta region would have had access to up to 50 percent more water from Lake Lanier than it has traditionally had, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. In exchange, metro Atlanta governments would have paid about $2.5 million toward the cost of operating Buford Dam, which created the lake in the late 1950s.

Bainbridge City Manager Chris Hobby said he had not studied the specific issue enough to comment on Monday’s ruling. Hobby said he does not believe water flow down the Flint River at Bainbridge has been a problem recently, but said city leaders would continue to monitor the “water wars.”

“We don’t need any decision by the Corps or the state that hurts downstream users,” Hobby said. “The main issues for us are maintaining a navigable flow of water and having enough water for recreation by our citizens.”

According to Hobby, the City of Bainbridge is an active member of the Middle Chattahoochee River Users group and the Tri-Rivers Waterway Development Association, based in Eufaula, Ala. Tri-Rivers Executive Director Billy Houston recently attended the Lake Seminole Association’s annual member meeting in Donalsonville, where he expressed continued support for restoring commercial shipping navigation to inland ports, including Bainbridge and Columbus, Ga.

Decatur County commissioners and officials were also in attendance at the Lake Seminole Association meeting to keep updated on water issues.

Governors react

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said he was “disappointed” but would work with his counterparts in Alabama and Florida.

“While we are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s decision today to not correct a flawed ruling by the D.C. Circuit, it is important to remember that this decision simply maintains the status quo in terms of the operation of Lake Lanier by the Army Corps of Engineers,” Gov. Perdue said in a news release.

“We felt strongly that Supreme Court review of this case could have resolved a major piece of our ongoing water negotiations, and we will now move forward continuing to work with our neighbors and other stakeholders to reach consensus on a plan that fairly shares our limited resources and adequately protects the headwaters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.”

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said he hoped the decision will provide a basis to resume negotiations for a comprehensive water-sharing agreement between Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist also supported the decision.

“I join the people and businesses of Florida who rely on a healthy Apalachicola Bay in applauding today’s decision by the United States Supreme Court. This action will allow Florida to continue our efforts to help protect the adequate flow of freshwater in the Apalachicola River.”