Metro Atlanta’s future water supply may rest with Army Corps manual

By Guest Columnist TERRY LAWLER, executive director of the Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta

The Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta, in conjunction with the Georgia Association of Water Professionals and the Council for Quality Growth, co-hosted a lunch last week to discuss the Army Corps of Engineers’ role in determining metro Atlanta’s future water supply.

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson; Jud Turner, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division; and Col. Jon Chytka, regional commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; spoke to a packed house of almost 150 business leaders, environmental activists, elected officials and water professionals about the importance of working with the Army Corps as it updates the Master Water Control Manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river basin.

This update, poised to establish metro Atlanta’s future water supply, is long overdue as the last approved Master Water Control Manual for the ACF was completed in 1958.

The water allocation the Army Corps establishes in this manual will directly impact our region’s future growth because nearly every county in metro Atlanta gets some, if not all of their water, from Lake Lanier or the Chattahoochee River.

It is well known that in 2011 the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Judge Paul Magnuson’s ruling and established that the Army Corps has the authority to allocate water from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River for metro Atlanta’s future water supply. The metro Atlanta region still awaits the Army Corps’ decision on how much water can be withdrawn from those sources, which is what the water control manuals will do.

Terry Lawler

Terry Lawler

The U.S. Court of Appeals ruling directed the Army Corps to determine how much water should be allocated in Lake Lanier for metro Atlanta’s consumption while also balancing downstream needs on the Chattahoochee River.

However, the outcome of the Army Corps’ decision is not yet clear.

The Corps could decide to allow the metro Atlanta region to withdraw enough water from Lake Lanier to meet present day demand, future demand or any other amount. While it is unlikely, but possible, the Corps could even set withdrawal amounts equal to the demands existing 50 years ago when the original ACF water control manual was adopted.

Clearly, metro Atlanta’s future access to water and our subsequent growth is at stake with the outcome from the Army Corps updated Water Control Manual.

The Army Corps plans to complete its analysis of the water needs of the entire ACF basin by August 2015 with public comment taking place through September 2015.  The final ACF Water Control Manual is planned for approval in November of 2016.

While the Army Corps presses forward with its mandate to update the ACF basin manual, Florida is attempting to bypass this process by suing Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court. All Georgians must be united in our opposition to this pre-emptive strike by Florida to both usurp the decisions of the U.S. Court of Appeals and undermine the Army Corps efforts to balance the needs of all Georgia, Florida and Alabama residents.

Metro Atlanta’s and Georgia’s future growth depends on the Army Corps “getting it right” when it updates the ACF basin Master Water Control Manual.

Last week’s conversations between the Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta, the Georgia Association of Water Professionals, the Council for Quality Growth, state leaders and Army Corps of Engineers Regional Commander Col. Jon Chytka confirmed that the way the Army Corps will “get it right” is by hearing and receiving input from all water users in the metro Atlanta region.

Our organizations will continue a dialogue with state leaders and Col. Chytka to acknowledge that the future growth of metro Atlanta and Georgia depends on an updated Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Water Control Manual that accounts for and allocates sufficient water for metro Atlanta while balancing the needs of all Georgia, Florida and Alabama residents.

4 replies
  1. ETHolmes says:

    The Corps has warned that operating Lanier to meet metro Atlanta’s needs plus other required uses will lower it to 30 feet below full pool during future droughts. Remember that Lanier drains only 6% of the ACF basin but contains over 60% of total storage. FL’s EIS scoping comments note that NEPA requires the Corps to consider alternatives including IBTs as discussed by the Governor’s Water Contingency Task Force (such as the Tennessee River).  FL’s new lawsuit is broader than just the ACF control manual, as the Corps has no reservoirs on the Flint River and the suit also goes after groundwater use by SW GA farmers.  The suit also notes that the equitable apportionment doctrine imposes a duty on GA to take steps to augment the ACF Basin (such as by an IBT from the Tenn River).  The General Assembly has been trying to do just that, by passing HR 4 of 2013 by over 90% in each chamber.  HR 4 directs the Attorney General to defend GA’s northern boundary, which crosses the Tenn River at GA’s true northwest corner.  Unless GA uses its riparian rights in the huge Tenn River, successfully resolving the FL litigation will be hard.Report

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  2. TDL1969 says:

    Mr. Holmes makes a number of valid points.  However, relying on a single solution to meet metro Atlanta’s water needs (whether IBT’s from the Tennessee or other water source, conservation, adding additional storage capacity to existing or future surface water bodies, the use of aquifer storage and recovery methodologies, winning in the courthouse, etc.),  is not a long term solution.  The region, and state, must invest in numerous water resource techniques/technologies if we expect to meet the growing demands for water for our human, agriculture and industrial sectors for decades to come.  Terry LawlerReport

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  3. ETHolmes says:

    TDL1969  I agree that the Tenn River IBT is just part of an overall solution that should also include  more storage and conservation. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise; just trying to keep it brief.  Good column, Terry.Report

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  4. Terry Lawler says:

    Yes, I could tell by your comments that you are well versed in the multitude of opportunities and challenges facing our regions water resources. I wish there were more people like you tuned into this issue. Unfortunately I continue to hear from people, who should know better, who think the issues have been resolved. As you and I know, nothing could be further from the truth.Report

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