ATLANTA (AP) — A judge has ruled that a federal agency doesn’t have to revise its plans for how it operates dams along the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, another win for Georgia in its struggles with Florida and Alabama over the water that flows into the Apalachicola River.
Environmental groups and the state of Alabama had sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2017, saying the agency’s plans held too much water in reservoirs in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin and that it should release more for hydropower and wildlife.
It’s the second win for Georgia, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Florida’s effort this spring to cap how much water Georgia could use.
Lake Lanier northeast of Atlanta and the Chattahoochee River supply drinking water to much of metro Atlanta.
“For metro Atlanta, what was at stake was really our ability to withdraw water from Lake Lanier,” Katherine Zitsch, manager of natural resources at the Atlanta Regional Commission, told WABE-FM.
The commission intervened in the case, siding with the Corps of Engineers along with the state of Georgia and metro Atlanta water agencies.
U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Thrash dismissed the claims, ruling that the corps had acted within its powers in making the water use decisions on how reservoirs should be operated until 2050.
“The decision was not arbitrary or capricious,” Thrash wrote. “The plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing that this delicate balance should be upset.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the federal template gives metro Atlanta virtually all the water it needs for the next 30 years from the ACF basin.
“We will continue to be good stewards of our water resources, and we are proud to have obtained a positive resolution on behalf of all Georgians,” Gov. Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr, both Republicans, said in a joint statement Thursday.
Some or all of the plaintiffs could appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“The plan will further starve the Apalachicola ecosystem of vital freshwater flows, especially during the critical breeding, spawning and flowering seasons for many species,” Georgia Ackerman, executive director of the environmental group Apalachicola Riverkeeper, said in a statement.
Florida’s Apalachicola Bay, which relies on the rivers for freshwater flows, saw its once prolific oyster fishery collapse after a drought. Environmental groups say that’s the most visible harm to a fragile environment from Georgia sucking up too much water.
Georgia, Florida and Alabama and have been fighting over water for more than 30 years. Alabama is also suing the corps over how it divided up waters in the separate Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basin. The headwaters of that system are in north Georgia.
At the end of his decision, Thrash became the latest in a long line of judges to encourage the states to settle their differences outside the courtroom.
“Decades of deferral and delay due to litigation should end,” he wrote.