Judge Issues Ruling in Water Wars Litigation

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson issued a blow to the state of Georgia in the two decades old tri-state “Water Wars” litigation. In his 97-page order, Judge Magnuson held that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers use of Buford Dam and reallocation of water from Lake Lanier to meet metro Atlanta’s water needs is illegal without Congressional approval.

Recognizing the “draconian result” of his Order, Judge Magnuson gave Georgia three years to go back to Congress to obtain proper authorization, or to resolve the dispute in another way. In the meantime, Georgia can continue to operate at current water-supply withdrawal levels but cannot increase those withdrawals without the support and consent of all parties. At the end of the three years, and absent approval or agreement otherwise, only Gainesville and Buford, Georgia will be allowed to withdraw water from Lake Lanier.

Judge Magnuson pointed out that blame could not be placed solely on the Corps, noting that “[t]oo often, state, local, and even national government actors do not consider the long-term consequences of their decisions,” seemingly attributing “unchecked growth” and individual’s decisions regarding consumption of finite resources to the current result.

Please note that SGR represents the Lake Lanier Association in this ongoing, important litigation.

SGR attorneys Steve O’Day, Jessica Lee Reece and Josie Nackers recently published an article in the Vermont Environmental Law Journal on the Water Wars litigation. Their article, “Wars Between the States in the 21st Century: Water Law in an Era of Scarcity” is available online.

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