Georgia has won another legal battle in the decades-long tri-state water wars.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash sided with Georgia this week in a lawsuit the state of Alabama filed challenging Georgia’s use of water from Lake Lanier. The suit accused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of mismanaging water allocations from Lake Lanier and other federal reservoirs in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin.

Thrash’s ruling was the second court victory this year in the three states’ tug of war over water allocations that dates back to the 1990s.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Georgia’s favor last spring, denying an effort by the state of Florida to cap Georgia’s water withdrawals from the ACF.

Florida’s lawyers had argued Georgia’s use of water from the basin was destroying the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay. Georgia’s representatives countered that the state deserves credit for major advances in water-use efficiency during the last 20 years.

As in the Supreme Court case, Thrash found that Georgia’s use of water to supply customers in the rapidly growing Atlanta region was not harming either downstream users or the environment.

“We are pleased with Judge Thrash’s decision,” Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr wrote in a joint statement. “As his order made clear, the Corps of Engineers’ decision struck a reasonable balance that assures Georgians a dependable supply of water while protecting the environment and preserving other important uses of the ACF Basin.

“We will continue to be good stewards of our water resources, and we are proud to have obtained a positive resolution on behalf of all Georgians.”

Katherine Zitsch, managing director of natural resources for the Atlanta Regional Commission, said this week’s decision was vital to Georgia’s future.

“This ruling is exceptional news for Georgia and metro Atlanta, as it secures our region’s water supply needs from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River,” she said.

“Combined with the recent win in the Supreme Court, we have taken two big steps in litigation. We look forward to moving beyond the courtroom and instead collaborating on ways to improve management in the basin.”

But the legal battles over water are far from over. Alabama has the right to appeal Thrash’s ruling. Meanwhile, another lawsuit Alabama filed challenging Georgia’s withdrawals of water from the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin remains pending.

Dave Williams writes for Capitol Beat News Service

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