Sep 11 2009

SHELBY: ANOTHER HUGE WATER WARS VICTORY

On August 21, 2009, U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) led the Alabama and Florida Senators in sending a letter to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Jo-Ellen Darcy, regarding updates to the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Water Manuals.  The letter requested an explanation as to how the Army Corps of Engineers will proceed with the manual update process in light of and in accordance with recent court rulings stating that water allocated from the ACF for Atlanta’s drinking supply is unauthorized and requires Congressional approval.  In response, Darcy today acknowledged that Atlanta drinking water is not an authorized use of water from the ACF river basin.  Further, the Corps has committed to reopen the manual scoping process, which Shelby has contended was initially intended to validate Atlanta’s current illegal water supply withdrawals from the ACF.

“This represents another huge victory for Alabama,” said Shelby.  “The Corps has unequivocally committed to update the ACF water control manuals to reflect the current state of law and Alabama’s most recent federal court triumph.  The Corps can no longer use the manual updates to favor Georgia over Alabama and Florida.  By reopening the scoping process, the Corps will ensure that Alabama receives the appropriate water allocation as intended under the Water Supply Act of 1958.”

In 1945-46, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a dam and reservoir on the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta for flood control, hydropower generation, and navigation support.  Under the Water Supply Act of 1958, Congress made clear that it must approve any major structural or operational changes to the project.  In 1990, Alabama and Florida filed suit, alleging that the Corps had violated the intention of Congress by allocating water for other purposes in Atlanta without congressional approval, thereby causing undue harm downstream in Alabama and Florida.

On July 17, 2009, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled in favor in Alabama and Florida, affirming the states’ argument that operational changes allocating water for the Atlanta water supply require Congressional approval.  Judge Magnuson’s decision orders a freeze on current water withdrawal levels from the reservoir for three years to allow for Congressional action on the matter.  Absent such action, withdrawal levels will return to the much lower levels of the 1970’s.

The Court’s decision follows a federal appellate court ruling in 2008 that invalidated a secret agreement between Georgia and the Corps seeking to allocate an even larger share of the water in the reservoir to Atlanta.

A scanned copy of Darcy’s response is attached.