For almost three decades, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have disputed the use of two shared river basins—the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT). These river systems are used to meet multiple needs, including drinking water, power generation, agriculture, aquaculture, navigation and recreation.
Surface waters from the ACF and ACT River Basins are critical for meeting metro Atlanta’s water supply needs because our access to groundwater is limited due to the granite geology underlying our region. While rainfall in metro Atlanta is generally abundant, river flows are not always sufficient to meet the area’s water supply needs. Therefore, we depend on our ability to store water in two reservoirs operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) to provide safe and clean water supplies for our residents and businesses: Lake Lanier in the ACF Basin and Allatoona Lake in the ACT Basin. Collectively, the Chattahoochee River and these two reservoirs accounts for approximately 80% of the metro region’s water supply.
The “Tri-State Water Wars” litigation began in 1990 when Alabama sued the Corps to prevent it from providing additional water to metro Atlanta from Lake Lanier and Allatoona Lake. Although the dispute has evolved and changed over time, it has historically focused on legal challengesto the Corps’ plans for managing the ACF and ACT Basins. While these legal challenges continue, it has expanded in recent years to include direct challenges to Georgia’s water use in the ACF Basin.
Today, the dispute is focused on three basic areas:
ACF Supreme Court Litigation
In 2014, the State of Florida sued the State of Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court. Florida is asking the Supreme Court for “equitable apportionment” of the waters of the ACF Basin restricting Georgia’s water use to 1992 levels, claiming that Georgia’s water use has harmed the environment downstream and caused the collapse of the Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery. For its part, Georgia has denied that its water use has harmed Florida, explaining that its current and projected future water use will have only “a minor impact on the flow in the Apalachicola River at the state line,” and that the collapse of the Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery is the result of environmental factors and mismanagement by the State of Florida. More information on the Supreme Court litigation.
ACT Water Control Manual and Related Litigation
In May 2015, the Corps adopted a new Master Water Control Manual for the ACT Basin, which includes Allatoona Lake. There are currently three lawsuits related to the 2015 Manual and the operation of Allatoona Lake for water supply.
First, the State of Georgia, the Atlanta Regional Commission, and Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority have sued the Corps for failing to act on water supply requests that have been pending since 1981, and for failing to consider or analyze water supply alternatives as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Separately, the State of Alabama, Alabama Power Co. and others have also filed suit against the Corps to challenge the 2015 Manual and the Corps’ management of Allatoona Lake.
Finally, the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority has filed suit to challenge the method the Corps uses to calculate the amount of water available to Cobb-Marietta from its storage in Allatoona Lake, including the Corps’ refusal to credit made inflows (return flows and releases from Hickory Log Creek Reservoir) granted to Cobb-Marietta by the State of Georgia.
ACF Water Control Manual and Related Litigation
On March 30, 2017, the Corps adopted a final Master Water Control Manual and Environmental Impact Statement for the ACF Basin. The updated manual explains how the Corps will operate the ACF Basin reservoirs, including how much water it will provide from Lake Lanier to metro Atlanta. It responds to a key decision by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2011, which dismissed challenges by Alabama, Florida and others to the Corps’ water supply operations and ruled that Congress intended Lake Lanier to be used as a water supply source for metro Atlanta.
In April 2017, shortly after the Corps adopted the updated manual, Alabama and several environmental organizations filed a lawsuit against the Corps to challenge it.
Page last updated December 20, 2018.