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Fla., Ala. appeal June ruling in water battle
Parties should be negotiating, Deals office says
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The water feud between Georgia, Alabama and Florida trudges on.

Alabama and Florida filed an appeal Friday of an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that had given Georgia a major victory.

In June, a three-judge panel reversed a July 2009 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson that would have severely hamstrung Hall County, and much of metro Atlanta, from withdrawing water from Lake Lanier.

Georgia's neighbors say metro Atlanta uses too much water upstream in the basin formed by the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola rivers, leaving too little downstream for neighboring states, businesses and wildlife.

The appeals "impact critical water resources in each of the states of this Circuit, and the outcome will affect the citizens as well as economic, environmental, and ecological interests in the three States for decades to come," attorneys for Alabama and Florida said in their appeal.

Alabama Power Co. and the city of Apalachicola, Fla., joined the two states' appeal. Southeastern Federal Power Customers Inc. filed a separate appeal.

The full appeals court has not decided whether to consider the case. Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens' office was reviewing the appeal Friday and did not have an immediate legal response.

"We're confident in our position and we think it's time to end the litigation and come to the table and negotiate," Olens' spokeswoman Lauren Kane said.

The Georgia governor's office was not pleased that Alabama and Florida are appealing the ruling.

"It's unfortunate that we may lose more precious time and resources to litigation," said Brian Robinson, spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal.

"A panel of the 11th Circuit court of Appeals recently issued a common sense and unanimous ruling. Gov. Deal feels confident that the full court would uphold that ruling if need be."

Robinson, added, "Now's the time to leave the courtroom and enter the negotiating room. The governors can hammer out an agreement that will provide for the long-term water needs of all three states."

Magnuson ruled two years ago that Atlanta had little legal right to water from the reservoir and would have to curtail water withdrawals by 2012 unless the political leaders of Alabama, Florida and Georgia struck a deal by then.

The order also would have severely restricted Gainesville's withdrawals from the river starting next summer to levels last seen in the 1970s, when the city was a fraction of its current size.

Nearly a year before the ruling took effect, the three-judge Circuit Court panel tossed aside Magnuson's ruling.

It gave the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates Lake Lanier and Buford Dam, one year to re-evaluate a request from Georgia seeking more water and instructed the federal agency that water supply is a permissible use of the dam.

The panel also gave the corps one year to revise its water control manual and Environmental Impact Statement for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. The manual was scheduled to be released this month.

Clyde Morris, attorney for the Lake Lanier Association, a Gainesville-based advocacy group, said the petitions seek a rehearing by the entire 11th Circuit.

They were "completely expected," he said.

He believes the states "are still facing a steep, uphill climb to get the full panel to either accept their petition for review or reverse the three-judge panel's decision. Only time will tell."

Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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