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Gainesville utility still studying court's water decision
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Gainesville Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall said he still is not sure how last week’s federal ruling on the purpose of Lake Lanier will affect Gainesville’s water use.

Randall told the Gainesville City Council on Tuesday that he is still reading the 97-page decision issued Friday by U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ordering that Atlanta has three years to win congressional approval to keep withdrawing drinking water from the lake.

The order still allows Gainesville and Buford to withdraw water for municipal drinking purposes but at greatly reduced levels.

"At this point, it’s really too early for me to have a comment for what it’s going to mean for the city of Gainesville," Randall said of the ruling.

According to the ruling, if Congress does not give Atlanta and other municipalities permission to use the lake as a water source in the next three years, only the cities of Gainesville and Buford would be allowed to continue to use Lake Lanier for drinking water, and that would be at mid-1970s levels.

"The court realizes this is a draconian result," Magnuson wrote. "It is, however, the only result that recognizes how far the operation of the Buford project has strayed from the original authorization."

The judge wrote that when Buford Dam was built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1957, "the corps consistently described the primary purpose of the project as flood control, navigation and hydropower."

The corps determined in 1975 that Gainesville and Buford were entitled to withdraw 10 million gallons of water a day, as they were congressionally approved to use the water because their previous water intake structures on the Chattahoochee River were inundated by Lake Lanier.

But in the early 1970s, the corps began allowing other municipalities to withdraw water from the lake on what it then characterized as "interim" contracts, the judge wrote.

As recently as the late 1980s, the corps acknowledged "that allowing water-supply withdrawals from the lake was not an authorized purpose of the project and would require Congress’ approval," the judge wrote.

Randall planned to discuss the ruling with stakeholders in the suit in a conference call Tuesday afternoon, though he did not divulge the details of the call and said he was not ready to say how the city utility would react to the ruling.

Randall said he planned to study the court documents before commenting on the ruling’s effect on Gainesville.

"It’s definitely a convoluted issue, and it’s not necessarily the way it appears at first on the surface," Randall said. "...I really want to take my time and be thoughtful ... the worst thing you can do is have a knee-jerk reaction."

Staff writer Stephen Gurr contributed to this report.

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