Atlanta — Dec 12, 2023
“Today’s landmark agreement heralds a new era of cooperation in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin. We appreciate the leadership of Governor Kemp and Governor Ivey and the willingness of all parties to find common ground. It’s a win-win solution that establishes a clear path to resolve the decades-long dispute over our shared water resources.”
– Kerry Armstrong, Chairman, Atlanta Regional Commission
“As leaders in water stewardship, we are gratified the parties have come together on an agreement that both protects metro Atlanta’s water supply and provides the downstream flows Alabama requested. We look forward to participating in the Corps’ public comment and environmental review process and are eager to find new opportunities to collaborate outside of the courtroom.”
– Katherine Zitsch, Senior Water Policy Advisor at the Atlanta Regional Commission
Questions and Answers about the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Agreement
On December 6, 2023, the States of Georgia and Alabama, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), and the Georgia Water Supply Providers announced an agreement establishing a path to resolve the decades-long dispute with Alabama over the Corps’ management of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Basin.
The parties have agreed to ask the court to pause Alabama’s appeal (details below) while the Corps completes a public comment process and environmental review. This request was filed on December 12, 2023.
Who are the parties involved in the agreement?
The agreement involves the following parties:
- States: The States of Georgia and Alabama
- ARC and the Georgia Water Supply Providers: The Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Water Supply Providers, which include the City of Atlanta, the Atlanta Fulton County Water Resources Commission, the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, DeKalb County, Forsyth County, Fulton County, the City of Gainesville, and Gwinnett County
- Corps: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and the federal officials that oversee the agency
What is the litigation with Alabama over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin about?
While the water litigation has extended over many years, the current dispute centers on the Corps’ decision in 2017 to adopt an updated Master Water Control Manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Basin and to approve a water supply Storage Contract at Lake Lanier. Collectively, the 2017 Master Manual and the Lake Lanier storage contracts guarantee that the Corps will meet Metro Atlanta’s long-term water supply needs from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River.
Alabama filed suit to challenge the 2017 Master Manual and Lake Lanier Storage Contract. Alabama claimed, among other things, that the Corps’ decision to meet Metro Atlanta’s water supply needs was unlawful. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled in favor of the Corps, Georgia, and ARC and the Georgia Water Supply Providers. Alabama appealed the court’s judgment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
What is the agreement about and why is it important?
The agreement provides a clear path to resolve the decades-long legal dispute with Alabama over the Corps’ management of water within the ACF Basin. The agreement by Alabama, Georgia, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Water Supply Providers, and the Corps is the product of a lengthy court-supervised mediation. The agreement will ensure Metro Atlanta’s water supply needs from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River will be met, while also modifying the Corps’ reservoir operations to provide minimum flows requested by Alabama.
The agreement has three basic parts:
- Alabama, Georgia, the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Water Supply Providers have agreed on a package of four Flow Objectives in the Chattahoochee River downstream of Atlanta.
- The Corps has agreed to conduct a public and environmental review process to evaluate the potential effects of adopting the Flow Objectives.
- Based on the results of its evaluation, the Corps will decide whether to revise the 2017 Master Manual to incorporate the package of Flow Objectives.
What are the Flow Objectives included in the agreement?
The agreement includes four specific Flow Objectives, which are considered as a package:
- Columbus, GA: Maintain 1,350 cubic feet per second (cfs) minimum average daily flow (rolling 7-day average)
- Columbia, AL: Maintain 2,000 cubic feet per second on weekdays
- In “Drought Zone” operations, these minimum flows at Columbus, GA and Columbia, AL would be met at least two days per week. “Drought Zone” is a specific zone defined in the Corps 2017 Master Manual when reservoir storage is low.
- Lake Seminole: Maintain 76 ft water level as provided in the Corps’ 2017 Master Manual
What are the next steps?
Now that the agreement is signed, the next steps are:
- Step 1. Environmental Review and Public Comment Process by the Corps.
The Corps will take comments from the public and conduct an environmental study before it makes changes to the 2017 Master Manual. The next step will be for the Corps to initiate this review. This review is expected to take up to 12 months.
- Step 2. Decision by the Corps.
After the Corps completes its environmental review and public comment process, it will decide whether to revise the 2017 Master Manual to include the Flow Objectives. If it does, Alabama has agreed to dismiss its case and the decades-long litigation with Alabama over the ACF Basin will be over. If the Corps decides not to revise the Master Manual, then Alabama’s case would proceed.
What happens to Alabama’s case while the Corps completes its review?
Alabama’s case is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The parties have agreed to ask the court to pause Alabama’s appeal while the Corps completes its review.
What is the ACF Water Control Manual?
The Corps must develop a water control plan for each of its reservoirs that outlines how it will be operated to meet its various authorized purposes, such as water supply, flood control, and hydropower generation. In river basins with multiple reservoirs, like the ACF River Basin, the Corps must prepare a Master Water Control Manual that includes the individual water control plans for each reservoir and that describes how the system will be operated overall.
The Master Manual for the ACF Basin was adopted in 2017. The 2017 Master Manual addresses how the five Corps reservoirs in the Chattahoochee River Basin are operated for their various authorized purposes, including water supply for Metro Atlanta, navigation, hydropower generation, and recreation. The five reservoirs are Lake Lanier, West Point Lake, Walter F. George Lake/Lake Eufaula, George Andrews Lock & Dam, and Lake Seminole.
Is there still other active litigation?
Yes. In addition to the challenges by Alabama, three environmental groups — the National Wildlife Federation, the Florida Wildlife Federation, and the Apalachicola River and Bay Keeper — also challenged the Corps’ 2017 Master Water Control Manual for the ACF Basin. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled in favor of the Corps, the State of Georgia, and ARC and the Georgia Water Supply Providers. This case is also now on appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
There is also pending litigation involving the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River Basin, which is pending in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Specifically, in 2015, the State of Alabama, Alabama Power Co., and other Alabama parties sued the Corps in federal court in Washington, D.C. to challenge the Corps’ 2015 decision to revise its ACT Master Water Control Manual. Subsequently, Alabama also challenged the Corps’ 2021 decision to meet Metro Atlanta’s water supply needs from Allatoona Lake.
On November 9, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in favor of the Corps, Georgia, and ARC and the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority on all claims challenging the 2015 Master Manual. The parties will now move forward with the second phase of the case.
Florida has also sued both Georgia and the Corps many times over the years, but there is no longer any active litigation. Most recently, in 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously denied Florida’s request for an equitable apportionment of the waters of the ACF River Basin.
Where is more information on the water litigation available?
The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is the official planning agency for the 11-county Atlanta Region, including Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, and Rockdale counties as well as the City of Atlanta and 74 other cities. The Atlanta Regional Commission’s mission is to foster thriving communities for all within the Atlanta region through collaborative, data-informed planning and investments.
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