Tri-State Water Wars (AL, GA, FL)
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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 (the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basins). The dispute has involved several local, state and federal agencies, as well as numerous courts and mediators, and its 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, 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 in a water-rich area of the state, and it sprawls across the tops of multiple river systems that drain into 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 uses.
• 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 thoroughly analyzing and critiquing the Army Corps of Engineers’ revisions to its drought contingency plan and water control manuals for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin, as well as the manual for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin as part of the federal environmental review process. The ACT basin’s Water Control Manual was finalized in 2015 and has already been challenged by both Georgia and Alabama, and the ACF basin’s Water Control Manual was finalized in December 2016. Updated for the first time in over 50 years, the manual sways in Georgia’s favor by giving the Atlanta metro region its requested water allotment through 2050, and is likely to be challenged by downstream states as a result.
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 to provide recommendations for an implementation plan, which were released in the Alabama Water Resources Management Policy Report in April 2014.
SELC has played a prominent role in stakeholder panels convened by the state, using the opportunity to weigh in on policy issues and help develop potential legislation. We will also continue to advocate for a water plan that emphasizes conservation and efficiency, discourages reliance on new reservoirs, and establishes flow standards to maintain healthy waterways.
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