In 2009, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that Georgia was illegally drawing water from Lake Lanier and potentially harming those who live downstream. The judge gave the states until July 17, 2012, to reach a water-sharing agreement. Without an agreement, Georgia will have no choice but to withdraw only the amount of water it took in the 1970s.
While it was widely believed that the Magnuson ruling would be what was needed to force the states to take negotiations seriously, then-Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue appealed the ruling and the talks stalled. However, after the ruling’s significance became apparent, talks resumed and the Georgia Legislature passed a comprehensive water-conservation program so that negotiations could move forward.
Nevertheless, Georgia continued to press its case in court, for it is, as Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “the most important case for Georgia’s future in decades.”
It’s easy to see why.
Since the ’70s, the metro Atlanta population has grown by more than 3 million people — people who need water for fire protection, sanitation, schools, industries, businesses and, of course, drinking. If they cannot have water, many will leave.
If Magnuson’s decision stands, it has been estimated that the impact on the metro Atlanta economy will be between $25 billion and $40 billion a year. Several hundred thousand jobs could be lost if there is not enough water to go around. The impact of this will be felt regionally and nationally.
On Wednesday, Georgia asked a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Magnuson’s ruling, a ruling Alabama and Florida found “detailed and carefully reasoned.” How long it will take the panel to reach a decision and what that decision will be is hard to say.
However, the states continue to negotiate, and according to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, “we feel we’re getting very close to some kind on an agreement” with Alabama. If that happens, Deal continued, “It certainly facilitates reaching an agreement with Florida.”
We hope he is right.
The water war needs to end, and the best way to end it is with a tri-state agreement, not with a court ruling.