The Water War

Sally BetheaBy Sally Bethea
Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

For more than two decades, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida have waged a legal war over the use of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin stemming largely from the operation of Lake Lanier’s Buford Dam by the Corps of Engineers.

Lanier lies within the Chattahoochee’s headwaters, just upstream of Atlanta. The Corps built the lake in the 1950s with Congressional authorization for flood-control, navigation, and hydropower. Over time, however, Lake Lanier has become the primary source of water supply for metro Atlanta, and Alabama and Florida have argued that Georgia withdraws too much and isn’t sharing the water fairly with downstream communities.

In July 2009, a federal judge ruled that water supply is not an authorized use of Lake Lanier, and gave Georgia three years to work out a solution to the water supply problem. Georgia appealed this decision and a hearing was recently held with a decision expected by summer. Regardless of the outcome of Georgia’s legal appeal, metro Atlanta must do much more to embrace water conservation and efficiency measures for our region’s long-term sustainability. It’s the smart thing to do for our pocketbooks and for the health of our river systems.

The Chattahoochee is the most heavily-used river in the state of Georgia, stressed by competing demands that threaten its ability to continue to serve multiple masters in three states, while remaining a healthy ecosystem. Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s (UCR) mission is to protect and preserve the Chattahoochee River, its lakes, and tributaries for all those who depend upon it, upstream and downstream.

With technical, policy and legal expertise, UCR has invested significant resources to help Georgia chart a new course for water security, while protecting the Chattahoochee River Basin for current and future generations. Details can be found at our website at

Sally Bethea is the Executive Director of Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

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