Water Wars: Georgia, Florida and Alabama
The 'water wars' between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama specifically revolve around the ownership and allocation of water "in two major river basins that cross their borders (the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basins)" ("Tri-State water wars"). Georgia, an 'upstream user' of these bodies of water is concerned about having enough water to fuel development in the cities of Atlanta and Columbus while also having enough money to support the state's agriculture. Alabama, in contrast, is a downstream user and needs water to support its power industry, to ensure it has enough municipal supplies for residents, and to support its fishing industry ("Tri-State water wars"). Florida is also concerned about the impact that a limited water supply could have upon its fisheries as well as its critical agricultural products such as oranges. "The dispute has involved several local, state and federal agencies, courts and mediators, and its outcome is one of the most important environmental issues facing the region today" ("Tri-State water wars").
The region has been stricken by drought during some recent periods although, it should be noted, nothing on the level which has afflicted the Western states. "For Americans from the parched western states, the notion of Alabama, Georgia and Florida battling over water must seem as daft as three fat people fighting for a grape at a lavish banquet. Average yearly rainfall in all three states exceeds 40 inches (just over a metre)" (Chattahoochee blues," 2010). But despite the fact that the three states are all near bodies of water, "rapid growth in the region, particularly in and around Atlanta, has put pressure on its water supply," and an inability to resolve this conflict combined with an increasingly unstable climate (droughts alternated by flooding rain) has elevated the anxiety of all states in regards to the future of their water's ability to support municipal demand and also to allow the water-dependent agriculture and fishing industries to flourish ("Chattahoochee blues," 2010).
'Water wars' are common all over the world and water has often been used as a political tool in many international conflicts throughout the ages. It is thought, given the escalation of global warming, that such water wars are likely to increase although the southeast is a hot, albeit not an arid region. "Water as a resource is very comparable to oil; it is essential to all daily human activities. Water is becoming a very valuable commodity, yet freshwater resources are unevenly distributed among developing countries. This scarcity in water has triggered desperation in countries that already have little access to water, let alone reliable water supplies" (Oforiaa-Amoah). Although Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are not desperate on the level of the developing world for survival -- the term 'water wars' as it applies to the southeast, are usually applied to a series of legal and environmental battles -- all states view the resolution of the conflict as an essential component of their future development.
The term 'water wars' is plural because there have been a series of legal cases, followed by negotiations, followed by further litigation over the past twenty years, in a kind of never-ending spiral. "The first round of cases (from 1990 to 2012) involved 8 separate cases in six different district courts, all challenging various aspects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' ('Corps') operation of its reservoirs…[Finally] In 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued a critical decision finding that water supply is a congressionally authorized purpose of Lake Lanier, and directing the Corps to address metropolitan Atlanta's water supply withdrawals with that understanding in mind" ("Tri-State water wars: 25 Years of Litigation"). However, a number of legal issues remain unresolved. The Court of Appeals ruled "ultimately dismissed these cases for lack of jurisdiction without reaching the merits of the various cases. This decision was effectively affirmed by the United States Supreme Court...
But this ruling did nothing to establish which state had the more compelling case on the issue.
Thus, despite such prolonged litigation, the legal issues surrounding the water dispute have continued to furiously escalate. And once again, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked to intervene in 2014. This time, the Court agreed to hear Florida v. Georgia, a case which pits Florida, which "Florida blames the over-consumption of water by its neighbor [Georgia] for the collapse of the oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay, which had produced 90% of the oysters sold in Florida and 10% of the country's supply" (Cotterell). Georgia moved to dismiss the suit but the Court agreed to hear the case, however it has not set a date yet to hear oral arguments.
Georgia had found an unlikely ally in the form of the federal government for its appeal to dismiss the case. The solicitor general suggested that the Court not consider the case until the Corps of Engineers finishes a new plan for the river system, given that many of the issues the Court decides upon may be rendered moot as a result of the Corps' decisions. However, the Court was persuaded to do so given the urgency of the Florida appeal. "Left unchecked, Georgia's daily consumption will grow to 705 million gallons per day by 2035, mostly because of Atlanta's population growth, Florida said in the lawsuit" (Cotterell).
It is remarkable to consider that these 'water wars' will likely continue well into 2015 and perhaps beyond (depending on when the Court hears the oral arguments) given that they began in the 1990s . In 1990 Alabama and Florida first filed a suit due to concerns about water reallocations and withdrawals of water as well as Georgia's stated plans to build a regional reservoir to support development in the city of Atlanta ("Water Wars History" 2010). This specific legal battle raged on until 1992 when the states agreed to conduct a bipartisan study with representatives of all three states to analyze water needs and use patterns. However, after a period of drought in the region, the federal government was forced to step in to enact a mandatory water compact between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. Even after this intervention, after the compact expired and the study was finished, the states continued to battle over control of the area ("Water Wars History" 2010).
The controversy began to pick up once again in 2003 when Georgia created "a separate agreement with the Corps of Engineers that gives metro Atlanta 23% of the water in Lake Lanier, a 65% increase," and by then more "than 3 million metro Atlanta residents depend[ed] on Lake Lanier for their water supply" ("Water Wars History," 2010). This agreement was challenged in court and after another period of drought and water restrictions from 2006-2007, the federal government was once again forced to intervene, even after water restrictions were announced on a state-by-state basis. "Alabama, Florida and Georgia agree[d] to a temporary reduction in the flow of the Chattahoochee River and to work out a long-term agreement for water sharing" ("Water Wars History," 2010).
The legal controversies surrounding water use continued to escalate as the Georgia legislature passed "a resolution to correct a long-standing boundary error with Tennessee that would effectively give Georgia access to the Tennessee River with 15 times the flow of Chattahoochee" ("Water Wars History," 2010). This was seen as a flagrant act of defiance of the spirit of compromise necessary to deal with the drought conditions. Negotiations between the states to reach a new agreement fell through and a previous agreement between Georgia and the Corps of Engineers designed to increase the water supply from Lake Lanier for metro Atlanta was declared illegal because of its lack of Congressional authorization. In 2009, a federal judge ruled "that that water supply 'is not an authorized purpose for Lake Lanier'" ("Water Wars History," 2010). Thus, the recent history regarding the 'water war' has been a battle over jurisdiction as well as environmental concerns.
The controversy of the water war is unlikely to abate, regardless of what the U.S. Supreme Court decides, given the ambiguous nature of water ownership itself. "Rivers don't follow political boundaries -- they flow through states and over international borders. And there are endless demands for water: for agriculture, drinking, plumbing, manufacturing, to name just a few. And then there's the ecosystem that depends on water getting downstream" ("Water wars: Who controls the flow?"). The configuration of water is also always changing, based upon environmental conditions. Particularly given the volatility of the weather in recent years in the southeast, it is unlikely that a victory in the water wars can be declared for all time, at best one can hope for a solution in the here and now to at least reduce the animosity between the neighboring states and to ensure that all have an adequate supply to fuel development and critical industries without damaging the environment or depleting a necessary resource.…
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