CUMMING — With Georgia’s victories in the tri-state water wars aside, and even its legal bills from that entanglement now history, the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association now has its eyes on a water reauthorization bill moving through Congress.
“We won all the lawsuits, without a doubt,” said LLA member Wilton Rooks, giving a report during the group’s annual membership meeting Wednesday night. “The battleground is now in Congress.”
Rooks was referring to the Water Resources Development Act, which proposes to authorize a number of water projects nationally, including the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project.
In the U.S. Senate’s approval of the bill in May, Georgia dodged a maneuver by Florida and Alabama — the other litigants in a long-standing water-sharing battle — that could have curbed Georgia’s water withdrawals from Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona.
The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives.
“It’s still a little bit bothersome, but it’s not as detrimental as it was,” said Rooks, also a member of the ACF Stakeholders, a group representing varied interests in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier at the northern end.
He told LLA members they might “start seeing some press” over the issue as it moves through the House.
“The only reason for mentioning it is to put it on the platter as one of the things that your association is trying to stay aware of and to influence to the betterment of the lake,” Rooks said.
Val Perry, a longtime LLA leader, told members that Florida lawmakers have written a letter “saying that the oyster industry in Florida is falling apart because Atlanta is taking too much water out of Lake Lanier. Now can you believe that?”
He added: “Florida is trying to rattle the cage again in Congress. We are talking to our (congressional delegation) to head this off.”
“Those are the kinds of things we are fighting all the time, even after Georgia won all the lawsuits,” Perry said.
“Florida will not give up.”
Twelve of 14 Georgia House members, including Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, sent a letter last month to House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee members Rep. Bill Shuster and Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, asking them to oppose “the inclusion of any similar language that could be viewed as taking sides in this interstate dispute.”
The congressmen said they were “very troubled” by sections dealing with dam “optimization” and water supply in the bill.
The water supply section “expresses concern that certain actions ... may raise questions about the (Army) secretary’s authority to provide water supply without seeking additional congressional authorization,” the letter states.
“While it appears the Senate intended only to express its concern that the secretary not be caught in the middle of an interstate dispute, this language could also be viewed as expressing support for the position of one state over the other,” the congressmen wrote.
The bill’s section concerning dams “has a similar effect by singling out water supply operations in the ACF and (Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin) for special limitations.
“In each case, this sets a dangerous precedent,” the letter states.
Loree Ann Thompson, spokeswoman for Collins, has said that “concerns still remain regarding the current language (in the bill).”
Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been engaged in legal wrangling over water sharing in the ACF for more than two decades.
Georgia gained leverage last year when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a lower court appeal from Florida and Alabama on a decision that would have limited water withdrawals from Lanier.
Lake Lanier Association was one of the litigants in that issue.
Perry announced that the group now has paid off its legal debt.
“I sleep a lot better now,” he said. “We still have a lawyer and we still pay him a very modest amount of money.
We don’t have a lawsuit going on right now.”