Water Wars in the US Southeast
The semi arid US Southwest has been accustomed to bitter conflicts over water rights, but now years of drought combined with rapid growth have sparked a fight between Georgia, Alabama and Florida over the rights to the use of water from the federal reservoir at Lake Sidney Lanier.
In July, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers erred by putting drinking water for Atlanta before Lake Lanier's mandated purposes: hydroelectric power, navigation and flood control.
The judge gave Congress until 2012 to work out a water-sharing deal among Georgia, Alabama and Florida or most of metro Atlanta will have to scale back water withdrawals to 1970s levels.
Although the severe drought conditions that plagued the Southeast in recent years have lifted, Atlanta's rapid growth continues to strain the demand for water. Atlanta grew by roughly 890,000 between 2000 to 2006, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the fastest growth of any metro area in the U.S.
Some in Atlanta believe that the court case was a result of envy of Atlanta's growth. Charles Krautler, the director of the Atlanta Regional Commission, complained that, “The only motivation is political. We don’t have as good of spin doctors as they do. It’s easy to point the finger at big bad Atlanta.”
But Alabama Governor, Bob Riley replied that, “Atlanta has based its growth on the idea that it could take whatever water it wanted, whenever it wanted it, and that the downstream states would simply have to make do with less.”
Congress must now approve Atlanta's use of the Lake Lanier water for drinking water in the next three years, which may be a difficult task given that the Florida and Alabama delegations to Congress outnumber Georgia's
Water wars may continue to spread to other parts of the country. In his 2006 book, The Great Lakes Water Wars, Peter Annin looks at the past and present conflicts over the largest collection of fresh surface water on earth which may also become a battlefield for water for parts of the country straining the limits of their local supplies.