Alabama Sues Corps of Engineers, Says Basin Control Manual Will Hurt Water Flows

By Chris Marr

May 7 — Alabama sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in federal court May 7, claiming a new water control manual favors recreation on a Georgia lake over the downstream water flows and the water quality needs of Alabama residents and businesses.

The state filed its complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, where the Corps of Engineers is based, accusing the agency of violating the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act, the complaint said.

The state asked the court to set aside the new water control manual and related environmental-impact study, which the corps issued May 4 for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River basin.

The state also asked the court to order the corps to revise or prepare a new water control manual for the basin that would protect Alabama water quality and ensure water releases from the upstream lakes controlled by the corps will be consistent with historical river flow levels into Alabama.

“This manual will decrease the quality of water in our State, which will hurt our citizens,” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) said in a written statement announcing the lawsuit. “It prioritizes water recreation on lakes in Georgia at the expense of hydroelectric power generation in Alabama, which will hurt jobs and the economy.”

The corps can't comment on pending litigation, said Patrick Robbins, spokesman for the agency in its Mobile, Ala., office.

Dry-Season Lake Releases Delayed 

The Alabama complaint said the corps would delay the historical late summer and early fall water releases from Lake Allatoona in northern Georgia.

The ACT basin traditionally receives low rainfall during this time of year, and so the releases are important to maintain adequate water flows in downstream Alabama rivers to meet the needs of businesses, drinking water users, and hydroelectric dams.

The lawsuit alleged that protecting recreational uses on Lake Allatoona is the only benefit of the delayed water releases. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management told the corps during the public comment period for the new control manual that the delayed releases would result in “water-quality violations and other adverse environmental impacts in Alabama,” the complaint said.

The complaint also pointed to public comments filed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which said the corps couldn't simply push the burden of protecting water quality onto the state of Alabama, as the state said the water control manual does.

Corps Accused of Legal, Technical Errors 

The state also accused the corps of various legal and technical errors in its analysis while preparing the environmental-impact statement.

Among them, the complaint said the corps failed to consider the water-supply impacts of new reservoirs in the ACT basin and failed to consider the likelihood of Georgia entities increasing their water withdrawals from the basin.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Marr in Atlanta at cmarr@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com