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Georgia gets good news in new corps water manual
Water withdrawal requests, present and future, granted as part of basin operations

LAKE LANIER -- It looks like Christmas has come early for Georgia’s water needs.

A just-released Army Corps of Engineers document shows the agency has granted state requests for 242 million gallons per day in withdrawals from Lake Lanier and up to 379 million gallons by 2050.

“It looks good for Lake Lanier and us right now,” said Kit Dunlap, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.

“We’ll kind of digest (corps documents) a little bit more and see,” added Dunlap, who serves on the North Georgia Metropolitan Water Planning District’s governing board.

Katherine Zitsch, natural resources division manager for the Atlanta Regional Commission, expressed similar glee Thursday.

“We are pleased that the long-term water supply needs of the Atlanta region will be met, as having a secure source of water is incredibly important to metro Atlanta's future,” she said.

“The Metro Water District is mindful that these precious resources are shared and is proud of our aggressive water conservation efforts that have dramatically decreased water usage in the region.”

The findings are part of the corps’ Final Environmental Impact Statement and Water Control Manual being released for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which straddles Georgia, Alabama and Florida and includes Lake Lanier in the headwaters.

The long-awaited water control manual, which was released Wednesday, is a 194-page document that covers operations in the basin, including drought plans, authorized uses and storage capacities.

“It looks like a workable manual for Georgia,” said Chris Riley, Gov. Nathan Deal’s chief of staff, adding that Deal’s office is still reviewing details.

And Georgia Department of Natural Resources spokesman Kevin Chambers said, “We are going to need some time to review it before we can respond.”

The environmental impact document, expected to be released Thursday afternoon, is a more detailed look at water withdrawals and their impacts on the basin. The draft document, which features charts and maps, is 794 pages long.

The corps “evaluated an array of potential water management and water supply storage alternatives during the (manual) update process,” spokesman E. Patrick Robbins said.

During the process, the corps developed a document, Proposed Action Alternative, which addresses water supply provisions, among other water issues.

Under this document, the corps “would continue to operate the ACF as a system in a balanced manner to achieve all authorized project purposes,” Robbins said.

Part of that is complying with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals’ 2013 ruling concerning whether Georgia could even tap into Lanier for water.

A three-judge appellate panel found that metro Atlanta could use the reservoir for water, but with restrictions.

That was a significant victory for Georgia in what had been a longstanding water-sharing dispute with Alabama and Florida.

But Florida fired another shot in the “water wars” by filing a suit in U.S. Supreme Court alleging Georgia had “overconsumed” water in the basin, causing an ecological disaster in the Apalachicola Bay.

A monthlong trial between the states ended Dec. 1 with a special master imploring both sides to negotiate a settlement.

Special master Ralph Lancaster reminded both parties that there’s much to be lost by booming metropolitan Atlanta or by residents of tiny Apalachicola, Fla.

“Please settle this blasted thing,” Lancaster said. “I can guarantee you that at least one of you is going to be unhappy with my recommendation — and perhaps both of you.”

Lancaster was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to make a recommendation to resolve the matter. The Supreme Court will have the final say in the coming year.