Georgia has asked a federal appeals panel to overturn the landmark ruling that threatens to restrict water supply to metro Atlanta — a move that was not a surprise to local officials.
In the appeal announced Thursday, Georgia argues that U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson overreached last year by issuing an order that could seriously limit drinking water from Lake Lanier for Atlanta residents. The state claims the judge misinterpreted laws governing who can take water from Lake Lanier.
Magnuson’s “order ... will be devastating to 3 million residents who have no meaningful alternative source of water,” lawyers for Georgia said in court documents.
“I think when you look at the appeal you’ll see a number of arguments that are being made that have the potential to overturn either pieces of the ruling or the whole thing,” said Gov. Sonny Perdue’s spokesman, Bert Brantley. “It’s very in-depth; it makes all the arguments, all the different points. We feel really good about the possibility of overturning it.”
Kit Dunlap, chairwoman of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, said she was not surprised by the appeal because it has been part of Perdue’s plan all along to solve Georgia’s water-supply issues.
“It’s been expected,” she said. “We believe it’s the right thing to do.”
Dunlap said despite what may happen with the appeal, cities and counties need to continue working on alternative water sources.
“If you want to boil it down to the immediate, it still points out that local governments better be looking at their own ways to solve the issue,” she said. “On a local level, we need to get on with solving our issues of the Cedar Creek Reservoir and the Glades Reservoir.
Dunlap said the appeal will only be one part of the puzzle for Hall County.
“We don’t need to depend on the appeals, negotiations or congressional actions or conservation’s not going to solve it either,” she said.
The city of Gainesville is one of the Georgia appellants. Gainesville Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall said he anticipated the appeal.
“This is the natural next step,” Randall said.
Attorneys for Gwinnett County also filed a separate appeal with the federal appeals panel. The county, which relies solely on Lake Lanier for its water supply, said Magnuson’s order amounted to a “death penalty for subsistence by existing households and businesses, as well as future economic growth within Gwinnett.”
Florida and Alabama have argued that Georgia takes too much water from Lake Lanier, drying up river flows into their states. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did not immediately schedule arguments in the case.
The dispute came to a head in July when Judge Magnuson ruled that Georgia had little legal right to water from Lake Lanier.
The lake — formed by a dam on the Chattahoochee River — serves as the main source of water for roughly 3 million people in and around Atlanta. The river runs through Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
That ruling gave the three states, which have fought over water rights since the 1990s, three years to reach an agreement.
Otherwise, the judge said he could reduce the supply of water that Atlanta can draw from Lake Lanier to levels set in the 1970s, when the city was far smaller.
Besides appealing the ruling, Perdue has restarted talks with the governors of Florida and Alabama. Georgia lawmakers also recently approved water conservation bills that state officials hope will show it is serious about saving water.
“It’s taken 20 years for us to get here so it’s not something that’s going to be solved overnight,” Brantley said. “The good news is Alabama and Florida are at the table, and they’re coming to the table in good faith and working toward a solution.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.