DAHLONEGA - Lake Lanier, one of Georgia's most important resources, is one of the elements at the center of the Tri-State Water Wars.
When states enter the courtroom to settle disputes, the process can be much more complicated than it is with citizens, such as with the Tri-State Water Wars involving Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
Attorney Greg Blount, partner in the Environmental and Natural Resources Practice Group at Troutman Sanders LLP and alumnus of the University of North Georgia ('78), talked recently about how states settle these issues and how the water wars continue to impact north Georgia. Blount has more than 30 years of experience in matters related to environmental law and policy, including related civil litigation and enforcement issues in state and federal courts.
*How has this case evolved since its beginning?
We have been working on these issues in court for more than 10 years, and compromise has been very difficult because political interests have not been aligned. The venues for dispute resolution have evolved from federal courtrooms in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, and now the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress is also engaged in the issues, some of which relate to questions of federal management for water resources that impact many other states and regions. Some issues are local to our region and the river basins of concern. Obviously there is no easy answer, but these issues have worked their way up to the highest legal authorities in the U.S. Supreme Court and Congress, so political will may be guided by the decisions of these institutions and a resolution and compromise achieved in time.
*Though Atlanta is the area in Georgia most-affected by decisions in this case, how is northern Georgia impacted by legal outcomes in the water wars?
North Georgia is home to the headwaters for both river basins of concern in the water wars. Any change to significant state or federal water supply projects in these basins will draw legal and political scrutiny by all stakeholders. Water supply issues can be linked to water quality concerns as well. Water issues can be integral to quality of life factors in the region, whether it's recreation, industrial recruitment, development, or ecological protection. How the water wars dispute is resolved will impact all of these areas.
*Where does the issue stand now, and what are the projected decisions or outcomes on the horizon? How will these affect our region?
One focus for all stakeholders is Congress, as certain amendments are finalized to the appropriations bill for water supply projects and Corps of Engineers management. Another focus is the action filed by Florida in the U.S. Supreme Court. A third focus is review and comment on how the Corps of Engineers is re-writing its management plan and manual for managing these basins. Again, direction from Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court will likely help shape political will, and could lead to greater certainty and a better future for dispute resolution in the basins, all of which will improve the future of north Georgia.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: The above originally appeared in the University of North Georgia weekly newsletter.)