By: Sally Bethea

For two decades, Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been battling over future water allocation in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin which straddles their borders. The dispute also involves a number of federal agencies, courts, and mediators. Its outcome is one of the most important issues facing the Southeast.

On July 17, 2009, federal judge Paul Magnuson answered a key question that has dominated this 20-year water conflict—how much of the water in Lake Lanier can be legally used for metro Atlanta’s water supply? His answer was stunning: none.

Lake Lanier lies in the Chattahoochee River’s headwaters just north of Atlanta, and over time it has become the main water source for metro Atlanta, sustaining 3.5 million people, half of whom have moved to the area in the last decades. While the reservoir, built by the Corps of Engineers in the 1950s, was authorized by Congress for flood control, navigation, and hydropower, Georgia argues that water supply was also an intent of the federal project. Alabama and Florida argue the opposite, claiming the Corps is holding back too much water in Lanier for unauthorized water supply.

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