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By Chris Marr
Nov. 7 — Georgia asked a federal judge to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to take action on water allocation requests previously delayed by long-running litigation involving the state of Alabama.
In one of a pair of related lawsuits filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, the state of Georgia accuses the corps of unreasonably refusing to consider the state's current and future water supply needs while producing an environmental impact statement as part of the corps' revision of the control manuals for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River Basin.
Georgia asked the court to order the corps to evaluate requests—some of them 30 years old—for additional storage capacity at Lake Allatoona, one of two federally managed reservoirs in the ACT basin. The state also wants the judge to vacate the final EIS and force the corps to craft a new one that factors in Georgia's water supply needs as a part of the overall management plan for the basin.
The corps announced the release of the final EIS on Nov. 7.
The Atlanta Regional Commission and the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority filed a similar lawsuit Nov. 7 in the same court against the corps (Atlanta Reg'l Comm'n v. U.S. Army Corps of Eng'rs,, N.D. Ga., docket number not available, 11/07/2014).
The Corps of Engineers declined to comment to Bloomberg BNA via a spokesman at the U.S. Department of Justice, which will represent the corps in the litigation.
The lawsuits accuse the Corps of Engineers of bowing to political pressure from officials in Alabama, which relies on water supplies downstream from Lake Allatoona. In their complaints, the plaintiffs claim corps officials have promised members of Alabama's congressional delegation that they won't study a reallocation of water in the basin without Alabama agreeing to it.
The corps' Mobile, Ala., district office oversees Lake Allatoona and the ACT basin.
“It is regrettable but necessary that we must now ask the court to require the Corps to do its job and make a decision. We need to know how Allatoona Lake will be operated for water supply so we can plan for the future,“ Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said in a written statement. ”That's all we're asking the Corps to do—put politics aside, make a decision, and let the chips fall where they may.”
The Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority has held a contract with the U.S. since 1963 to maintain 13,000 acre-feet of storage capacity on Lake Allatoona for water supply withdrawals, according to the lawsuits. The authority notified the corps as early as 1981 that it would need more storage capacity, and between 1981 and 1989, the corps assured it that additional capacity would be granted imminently.
Litigation from the state of Alabama prevented the corps from granting the request, and related water rights litigation persisted up through 2012, according to the Georgia lawsuit. After the final appeal related to the ACT basin was dropped before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, the corps should have been able to move forward with considering Georgia water requests, including the Cobb County's request, the state argues in its complaint.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) sent a formal request in January 2013 to Jo-Ellen Darcy, assistant secretary of the Army in charge of civil works, requesting that the corps design its water management plans for the ACT basin and Lake Allatoona in consideration of Georgia's projected water needs in 2040.
According to Georgia's lawsuit, Darcy responded that the corps wouldn't consider Georgia water supply requests at Lake Allatoona until after revising the manuals for the ACT basin.
The state's lawsuit alleges the corps has no plan or timeline for evaluating its requests and says further delays in water allocation will cause harm to the residents and economy of Georgia.
“If Lake Allatoona were not available to meet Georgia's current and future water supply needs, additional reservoirs and other water supply infrastructure would have to be developed. Due to the complexity and uncertainty associated with developing such resources, planning must begin 15 to 25 years in advance,” the complaint says.
The Georgia lawsuits over water allocations in the ACT basin come just a few days after the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a lawsuit in a separate water rights dispute between Georgia and Florida. In that case, Florida is suing Georgia over water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. The court granted Florida's motion to file a complaint in a Nov. 3 order.
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