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Lake advocacy group keeping an eye on court case
Georgia asking March 9 for appeals court to overturn ruling
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Lake Lanier Association, formed to help protect and advocate for the North Georgia reservoir, has March 9 circled in red on its calendar.

That's when the state of Georgia formally asks the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson's July 2009 ruling that water supply was not an authorized use of Lake Lanier.

The ruling, which gave Georgia three years to get congressional approval to continue withdrawing drinking water from the lake, served as a low point for Georgia in the 20-year "water wars" with neighbors Florida and Alabama.

"The Lake Lanier Association is very interested in the continued efforts for finding resolution to the tri-state water wars, both inside and outside the courtroom setting," said Joanna Cloud, executive director.

The Gainesville-based organization began as a homeowners group in 1966 but has extended its reach to include pushing for solutions to such issues as water quality and quantity. It has recently stepped up its push for raising the full pool to 1,073 feet above sea level from 1,071 feet.

"Given the impact lake levels have on property values and recreation, we will continue to focus our attention on practical solutions ... that protect the lake for everyone," according to the group's website.

Clyde Morris, the lawyer representing the Lake Lanier Association, will monitor but not participate in the March 9 oral arguments.

"There's a limitation on the amount of time that each side is allowed to have," he said.

Magnuson has said he didn't think his ruling, which allowed Gainesville and Buford to use the lake for drinking water at mid-1970s levels, was "an appealable order."

The 11th Circuit Court disagreed.

Morris applauded the court's decision, saying at the time, "We continue to believe that Congress intended for Lake Lanier to support both recreation and water supply, and we will pursue our appeals to protect the lake and the interests of our members, as the association has for over four decades."

The River and Harbor Act, approved by Congress in 1946, authorized "a multiple purpose dam on the Chattahoochee River at Buford in the interest of navigation, flood control and power and water supply."

"Georgia's basic argument is that Lake Lanier was in fact authorized for water supply and that Judge Magnuson's decision ... was incorrect," Morris said.

The appeals court most likely will either just affirm or reverse Magnuson's ruling, he added.

"If they reverse it, the court will (send back the order) to Judge Magnuson with some instruction on what he should do next," Morris said. "Affirming it puts a lot of pressure on Georgia to come up with a solution."

It's hard to say when the 11th Circuit will rule.

"I would expect to have (the decision) before July," or one year before Magnuson's ruling takes effect, Morris said. "The court needs to give some guidance to the parties."