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Drink Up, Atlanta: SCOTUS Denies Lake Lanier Water Rights Review

By Robyn Hagan Cain on June 26, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Supreme Court refused to dive into an ongoing Lake Lanier water rights dispute this week, leaving Georgia as the big winner in what The Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls “the water wars.”

Florida, Alabama, and Georgia have been arguing over Lake Lanier water withdrawal rights for decades. While the Atlanta metro area relies on Lake Lanier as the primary water source for almost 3 million people, Florida and Alabama argued that Congress never intended for Lake Lanier to provide drinking water.

District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled in 2009 that Georgia either had to reach an agreement with her neighbors by July 2012, or return to 1970s water withdrawal levels. If implemented, that decision would have cost Georgia's economy an estimated $40 billion per year.

A year ago, however, an Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals panel overruled Magnuson's water-sharing deadline in a 95-page decision, finding that the 1950s legislation approving the construction of the Buford Dam -- which, in turn, created Lake Lanier -- anticipated that the metro-Atlanta area would need greater water withdrawal from the lake over time, reports the Journal-Constitution.

The panel sent the case to the Army Corps of Engineers, which still controls Buford Dam, telling the group to review Georgia's water needs against the environmental impact, as well as Florida and Alabama's water demands.

In September, the Eleventh Circuit rejected a request from Florida and Alabama to vacate a three-judge panel's unanimous decision on the tri-state water withdrawal dispute. Florida and Alabama asked the Supreme Court to resolve the Lake Lanier water rights dispute in February.

Following the Supreme Court's decision to deny certiorari in the case, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal indicated that he's ready to move forward with Alabama and Florida to hammer out a long-term agreement that will provide for the water needs of all three states.

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