Georgia’s congressional delegation met briefly on Tuesday to discuss a ruling requiring an act of Congress so most of metro Atlanta can continue using Lake Lanier as a water source.
Though the delegation did not meet for long — approximately 15 minutes — lawmakers will likely take a wait-and-see approach to the future of Lake Lanier, according to U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal.
In the brief meeting, the delegation discussed the most recent development of the tri-state water wars between Georgia, Alabama and Florida. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled Friday that nearly all Georgia’s withdrawals from Lake Lanier are illegal because the lake was built for hydroelectric power, not to supply water.
Deal said the ruling presents Georgia with challenges and opportunities.
"I don’t think that we have to take this opinion as an end-all or doom-and-gloom," Deal said. "It presents us with challenges, but that’s where the leadership of our state needs to come together."
In the court decision, Magnuson ordered the lake’s water usage to be kept at current levels for three years. If an agreement isn’t reached between the three governors or
Congress does not act by then, he said the lake’s operations would return to the 1970s level.
Although Tuesday’s discussions among members of the state’s congressional delegation were cut short by a series of votes in the U.S. House of Representatives, Deal said the leaders are going to wait and see if Gov. Sonny Perdue will move forward with an appeal before taking any action.
Moving too quickly, Deal said, could put Georgia at a disadvantage in terms of bargaining power.
"We thought it was premature (to act) at this point until everybody had a chance to digest the (judge’s) opinion and think about what the options were," Deal said.
Perdue said Tuesday that he is willing to risk the state’s chances in court if negotiations about how to share water from Lake Lanier do not start soon between the three states. The governor said he won’t negotiate a deal with Alabama and Florida "that’s harmful to the future of Georgia."
Perdue, a Republican whose term ends in 2011, will face increasing pressure to forge a deal before his successor takes office.
"The three governors ought to come together quickly ASAP to discuss the decision and craft a joint resolution," said state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, a leading Atlanta Democrat. "Or else the hammer is coming down on us."
Florida and Alabama may also be more inclined to negotiate with Georgia rather than risk an unfavorable outcome in Congress or by the courts on a possible appeal — particularly if Georgia is willing to hand over long-sought concessions.
Both Congress and the courts could be difficult routes for Georgia to take from here. A federal appeals court in Washington already ruled against Georgia in a related case last year, and Georgia lawmakers would face an enormous challenge to overcome resistance in Congress from their Florida and Alabama colleagues.
Despite the challenges, Georgia’s congressional delegation will discuss the issue again on Thursday after a statewide stakeholder’s meeting, Deal said.
"I think when you look at the overall situation, everybody acknowledges that nobody’s going to let the city of Atlanta go without water," Deal said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.