Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) says the federal agency that manages the lake’s water has failed to keep the Cobb-Marietta Water Authority, the water wholesaler, from taking more than it is allowed.
Sessions alleges the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has a contract with the water authority that specifies how much it can take, knew the authority was taking too much yet didn’t do anything to stop it.
Sessions questioned Corps representatives and heard from Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss Monday at a hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Brig. Gen. Donald Jackson, commander of the South Atlantic Division of the Corps, told Sessions at the hearing he was aware of infractions in 2007 when the Southeast experienced a crippling drought, but did not know of any recent problems.
Cobb’s water use affects other states
Pat Robbins, public affairs officer for the Mobile District of the Corps, told the MDJ that authority officials were notified once after exceeding the permitted amount, but no consequences were levied.
Sessions’ statements aren’t the first time metro Atlanta’s water usage has been called into question. A decades-long fight between Georgia, Florida and Alabama over the use of water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river systems, which include Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier, have resulted in litigation and bickering among the states.
The ACF flows downstream toward Florida and the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers while the ACT flows into Alabama and the Coosa River.
“It has been temporarily resolved a few times but there has never been a permanent, compact agreement between the three states,” said Glenn Page, the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority’s general manager. “Ideally, that will happen.”
Alabama and Florida officials say that metro Atlanta’s usage negatively impacts them because when metro Atlanta uses more water from the basins, less water flows downstream.
“There are allegations of Georgia growing at the expense of Alabama because Alabama needs certain downstream flows,” Page said.
The Florida seafood industry, Page said, also claims that Atlanta’s water usage is destroying its product by curtailing freshwater flows into the bay.
“That is simply untrue because Atlanta consumes only 1 percent of the flow that goes to the Apalachicola Bay,” Page said.
Measuring waternot cut and dry
Sessions said he has a “pretty big difference of opinion” with the Corps and that the authority has “by its own admission” exceeded limits for decades.
Page admits the county used more than it was allowed during the height of the drought in 2007. He says the authority was notified again last year “before the rain started” that it had exceeded capacity.
The latest allegation, Page said, comes from a difference in the way the Corps and the state of Georgia measure water usage.
Based on a complicated formula, the Corps allocates the authority 4.61 percent of the lake which comes out to about 34.5 million gallons per day. The state takes that percent of water into account in addition to what Cobb’s two waste water treatment plants return to the lake.
Sessions said that logic is problematic.
“(The authority) basically claims that their return of water counts and, therefore, they’re entitled to do it, and they intend to keep on doing it,” he said at the hearing.
Sessions wants the Corps to do something about it.
“The Corps may be overlooking its deep fundamental responsibility to deal with a multistate problem that has impacts throughout the region,” he said.
Litigation ties Corps’ hands
In a joint statement to the committee, Chambliss and Isakson said the problem is litigation that has “forced the Corps to sit idly by in this dispute.”
Several lawsuits have been filed between representatives of the three states and the Corps over the years, and in 2011 a lawsuit was thrown out of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals giving the Corps the authority to regulate metro Atlanta’s water in Lake Lanier.
The Corps is attempting to move forward, Chambliss and Isakson went on to say, to make a “determination on the best path forward for all parties.”
Page says Gov. Nathan Deal requested on Jan. 25 the ability to use more water from Lake Allatoona, increasing the amount to 147.9 million gallons per day. That number does not take into account impacts from the Richland Creek Reservoir and Hickory Log Creek Reservoir. The request has not been approved.
The Corps has “delayed making a firm decision about Georgia’s pending request,” Isakson and Chambliss said.