Judge’s ruling signals end to tri-state water dispute

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Ruling in Apalachicola- Chattahoochee- Flint River Basin provides opportunity for states to bring an end to 18 year battle

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Governor Charlie Crist and Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael W. Sole are delighted and satisfied with Federal Court Judge Paul Magnuson’s decision today in ongoing litigation over the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin.
In the decision, U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson ruled that Congress needs to approve use of the water from Lake Lanier for water supply – which currently amounts to nearly one-quarter of the conservation storage.  In addition, Judge Magnuson ordered that all water withdrawals be frozen at current levels for the next three years until Congressional authorization is given or if some other resolution is reached.  If Congress does not approve a reallocation within that period, then water withdrawals from Lake Lanier will revert to “baseline” operation of the mid-1970s.

“Today’s ruling is a monumental milestone in the 18-year battle between Florida, Alabama and Georgia over the waters of the ACF basin, underscoring the importance of the Apalachicola’s environment and economy,” said Governor Crist. “The Judge’s decision allows the governors to come together to reach an agreement outside of the court system. I look forward to working with Governors Riley and Perdue to find a solution that will be beneficial for all of our states.”

Florida has long maintained that the United States Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia cannot allocate the water within Lake Lanier for water supply purposes without Congressional approval. Judge Magnuson’s ruling reaffirms that position. In addition, through the litigation, Florida has sought protection for the Apalachicola ecosystem and the federally threatened and endangered species within the bay and the entire system.

“The Apalachicola River and Bay are one of the most productive and diverse estuarine systems on the Gulf of Mexico coast,” said Secretary Sole. “The Army Corps of Engineers’ operation of the system has been harmful and detrimental to the ecosystem. It is my hope through this ruling the states can come to a solution that protects the important natural resources of the region.”

Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the United States Army Corps of Engineers have been engaged in litigation over sharing the waters within the basin of the ACF Rivers for nearly two decades. The disputes have focused primarily on the Corps’ operation of its four Chattahoochee River dams. The largest is Buford Dam, which forms Lake Lanier located north of Atlanta.

“Florida has always been ready to negotiate, in good faith, a fair equitable sharing of the waters in the basin,” stated Governor Crist. “We remain committed to doing so in the future.”

For more information about the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/mainpage/acf/default.htm.

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