Tri-State Water Wars (AL, GA, FL)

Atlanta's fast-paced growth has over-tapped Lake Lanier, leading to a decades-long water fight with Alabama and Florida.


Photo © Craig Tanner

Advocating for the Long-Term Health of Two Major River Basins

For decades, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have been battling over the future allocation of water in two major river basins that cross their borders: Georgia and Alabama have been fighting over the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin, and all three states are in conflict over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin.

The dispute has also involved several local, state and federal agencies, as well as numerous courts and mediators, and its ultimate outcome is one of the most important environmental issues facing the region today.

Each state has its own concerns about the proper allocation of water:

• Georgia:  As the upstream user, Georgia wants to have enough water to continue growing, particularly in booming metro Atlanta where much of these river systems originate, in addition to supplying cities such as Columbus and heavy agricultural usage in the state’s southwest corner. The problem is that Atlanta is not located in a water-rich area of the state, and it sprawls across the tops of multiple river systems that drain into both the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. 
• Alabama:  Alabama is concerned that Atlanta’s ever-increasing thirst for water will severely limit its own use of water for power generation, municipal supply, fisheries and other current and future needs.
 Florida:  Florida wants enough freshwater to reach the Apalachicola Bay to sustain its multi-million dollar shellfish industry, which is under severe ecological stress resulting from low river flows and saltwater intrusion.

What’s Being Done

A leading member of the Tri-State Conservation Coalition, SELC is keeping close tabs on this long-running dispute to ensure the final outcome protects water quality and quantity in the two basins. In the past, we have weighed in with courts and federal and state agencies urging them to take environmental needs into account.

SELC is currently monitoring the ongoing litigation over the river systems playing out in several federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court. We are also making sure that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does its part to operate crucial reservoirs in Georgia in a way that ensures healthy stream flows.

On the Coosa River in Alabama, we are participating in the relicensing process for seven Alabama Power dams to make sure that they maintain healthy water quality for recreation and aquatic life.

Developing a State Water Plan for Alabama

Alabama remains the only state involved in the tri-state water wars without a comprehensive water plan, putting the state at a severe disadvantage when competing with its neighbors for water without a plan to balance competing water needs within its own borders.

SELC joined forces with the Alabama Rivers Alliance, other citizen groups and water users to lobby the governor and legislators to develop a water plan that would strengthen Alabama’s position for negotiating its water needs, while improving protections of its water resources for current and future generations.

In 2012, Governor Robert Bentley tasked a group of state agencies called the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group (AWAWG) to provide recommendations for an implementation plan, which were released in the Alabama Water Resources Management Policy Report in April 2014. SELC played a prominent role in the AWAWG stakeholder panels, using the opportunity to weigh in on policy issues and help develop potential legislation.

Governor Kay Ivey disbanded the AWAWG in 2017 and reassigned the responsibility of developing a plan back to the Alabama Office of Water Resources and the Alabama Water Resources Commission, with instructions to review the report and develop a roadmap that includes recommendations on next steps, proposed timelines, and estimated funding needs to produce a water management plan.

SELC and Alabama Rivers Alliance continue to advocate for a water plan that emphasizes conservation and efficiency and establishes flow standards to maintain healthy waterways, and urge Alabama residents to make their voices heard in support of a plan by visiting

Read more about the tri-state water wars.

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