Thirsty City: Atlanta's Battle for Lake Lanier

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  • Topic: Georgia, Water, Atlanta metropolitan area
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  • Published : March 6, 2013
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The Thirsty City: Atlanta’s Battle for Lake Lanier

Abstract
This paper portrays the formation, development, and possible solution of the tri-state water crisis between Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. To do so, it focuses first on the claims of each state along with a brief explanation of each states’ riparian claim to the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ATF) Basins as this is a necessary basis of understanding in order to see why stakeholders took the steps that they did and to grasp the gravity of the situation. From here, the focus moves more towards Atlanta, as the citizens there had the most at stake during this dispute. Next, a history of the dispute is outlined, beginning with the reasons for constructing the Buford dam, and continuing through last recommendations from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. The historical section provides basic facts to support the decisions made by different courts and reveals the logics of how these decisions were made. In conclusion, the paper outlines current conditions and recommendations for addressing the tri-state water crisis.

The Thirsty City: Atlanta’s Battle for Lake Lanier
Atlanta recently received confirmed rights to use the ACF and the ATF Basins as sources for drinking water. The multi-decade long battle between Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, during which Atlanta had been using the water [quasi-legally], ended this summer in Atlanta’s favor to the general consternation of Alabamans and Floridians. At first glance, the fact that Atlanta claims rights to a lake in Georgia (40 miles North of Atlanta) would not seem to be an interstate problem. However, arguments from Alabama and Florida that the rivers flowing out of the lake continue through those states, and that the original provision of the dam and lake had nothing to do with water supply have provided confusion over who has primary rights. Like many other downstream constituencies of rivers all over the world, Alabamans and Floridians feel that Georgians are taking advantage of their upstream position, and that the Georgian use of the water as water supply may infringe on their own rights to the water further downriver. Additionally, Florida and Alabama feel that they are entitled to an easement of sorts, or prescriptive rights to the water of the rivers flowing from Lake Lanier. They maintain that they had access to them since before the Buford project began, and feel that their rights should not be taken away. As a result, the issue over who owns rights to water in the ACT and ACF basins has caused a long series of lawsuits and ensuing controversy over the past few decades, and with the recent ruling, the three states will have to come up with a lasting solution soon.

Claimants’ Positions
Atlanta’s Geography
A large part of the problem for Atlanta is that the ground in Georgia is primarily a top layer of clay over a nonporous layer of hard rock, which means that groundwater is not a viable source of water supply. Consequently, the City of Atlanta and its metro area rely on rivers, lakes, and streams for 99% of its water supply. Thus, the city is all the more subject to seasonal externalities like droughts, which is worsened by the fact that rainfall varies widely—between 30 and 70 inches per year (Atlanta Regional Commission, 2012). Furthermore, the fact that there are no natural lakes in Georgia facilitated the construction of two reservoirs, Lake Lanier of the ACF Basin and Lake Allatoona of the ACT Basin to provide a host of services, including (as it turns out) water supply (Ibid.). The obvious result is that the 3.5 million residents of the metro Atlanta area get most of their clean water from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee or Lake Allatoona. Alabama’s Interests

Alabama uses the ACF Basin in a number of different ways typical of any river basin. They claim that decreasing water flow through the Chattahoochee, especially in larger metropolitan areas,...
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