The Georgia-Florida-Alabama water war is on hold, but only temporarily. Federal biologists, concluding that it would not jeopardize a species of mussels that lives in Florida’s Apalachicola River, ruled Friday that the flow of water from Georgia’s Lake Lanier could be reduced. This would extend the time when the lake/reservoir will be unable to meet the drinking water needs of the Atlanta area which, as of last week, was predicted to be 79 days.
This respite is extremely tenuous. Florida or Alabama - most likely Florida - could challenge the ruling in federal court, contending that a curtailment will damage its economy. Earlier this month, the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages regional water resources, announced it wanted to reduce water flow to Florida by 16 percent until the drought breaks. Florida, however, backed away from the three-state negotiations last week, saying this would "displace the entire economy" in the panhandle area’s seafood industry, the Associated Press reported.
A little background. What is at issue is how much water the corps can hold back in reservoirs - Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona - located near the head of two river basins in north Georgia. These water sources eventually flow into Florida and Alabama, where this water meets a wide range of needs. This flow also provides drinking water for the Atlanta region, and with the extended drought, there isn’t enough to go around. Compounding the problem is that the corps must by law release adequate water to ensure the survival of species protected by the Endangered Species Act.
While a judicial ruling must be based on existing law, logic suggests that if the question comes down to drinking water for people versus water for a habitat for mussels, we would vote for people, and we would hope courts endorse this priority. Since the mussels will not be destroyed by a water flow reduction, this seems to be the most reasonable plan. The Atlanta region, already under heavy-duty water restrictions, is well aware that if the situation doesn’t change soon, it could be in for a far rougher ride. -
The Macon Telegraph