The federal courts have sent a clear message they don’t intend to bring fairness, clarity or a sense of urgency to ending the 23-year water wars among Florida, Georgia and Alabama. It’s time that Congress established once and for all that the states must share a watershed that serves a distinct need for all three. And Washington needs to act before Apalachicola’s oyster beds and estuary dry to the point of becoming both an ecological and an economic crisis.
The three states have battled for decades over a dam that the Corps built in the 1950s on the Chattahoochee River north of Atlanta. Constructed principally to create hydroelectric power and control flooding, the dam has evolved over the years to act as an important drinking water resource for metropolitan Atlanta, which has used water from the reservoir, called Lake Lanier, to meet the needs of fast-growing suburbs. The withdrawals have come at the expense of users downstream such as Florida’s seafood industry, which relies on water flow from the entire basin to feed the Apalachicola River. The river flows south across the Florida Panhandle and empties in the Gulf of Mexico.