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Georgia, Alabama settle suit over water from Chattahoochee

Posted on Dec 14, 2023 at 19:16 PM

On Dec. 12, Govs. Brian Kemp of Georgia and Kay Ivey of Alabama announced that the two states have reached an agreement with the  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is expected to end a lawsuit brought by Alabama over availability of water from the Chattahoochee River.

According to a joint press release, the agreement assures sufficient minimum water flows to both states’ citizens who live and work in the Mid- and Lower Chattahoochee River Basin during times of drought.

Under the agreement, the Corps of Engineers will begin formally considering a first-of-its-kind proposal to operate its dams and reservoirs to achieve minimum water-flow objectives at Columbus, Georgia, and Columbia, Alabama on the Chattahoochee River along the States’ border. The proposal also provides that the Corps would continue to maintain the necessary minimum elevation at Lake Seminole, located in southwest Georgia, approximately twenty miles southwest of Bainbridge.

“We are very pleased to see an agreed path forward, settling this decades-long dispute with our neighbors to the west,” Georgia Farm Bureau Public Policy Director Alex Bradford said. “Agriculture depends on long-term certainty like this agreement that will provide a plan for the future. This resolution is also critical for agriculture’s consumers and Georgia’s growing population throughout the entire basin. We appreciate the diligent leadership of Governor Kemp and Attorney General Carr navigating these negotiations. This is yet another significant step forward, coupled with the earlier resolution of the lawsuit with Florida and the ongoing work by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to responsibly enhance access in the lower Flint, that will ensure the viability of our state’s number one industry for future generations.”

Ivey and Kemp both referred to the agreement as a “win-win.”

“The Chattahoochee River is the lifeblood of southwest Georgia, and this proposal would give citizens and businesses certainty about the flow of water they need for business and leisure alike,” Kemp said. “Just as significant, adoption of this proposal would end the current issues related to water supply for metro Atlanta at Lake Lanier, which is crucial to the future of our State.”

 Alabama filed the suit in 2017, challenging the Corps’ operations in the region, including the Corps’ policy allowing Georgia to make water supply withdrawals near Atlanta. Although this specific case was filed in 2017, litigation between the parties over these issues has been in the courts since 1990.

“Alabama and Georgia have a lot in common, but we have spent a lot of time — and a lot of money on attorney fees — fighting in court over water,” Ivey said. “This proposal is a big deal for Alabama as the Corps has never before set minimum water-flow objectives in the parts of the Chattahoochee that affect us.”

The Corps’ consideration of the proposal will be subject to a public-comment period and environmental review that could last several months. If the Corps adopts the proposal, Alabama will dismiss its appeal in this matter following a one-year review period, and the litigation will end. If the Corps does not adopt the proposal, Alabama’s lawsuit will resume.

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