Both Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service praised a federal decision to reject Florida’s claim in a 20-year-old dispute over water in the Chattahoochee River.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that in litigation between Georgia, Florida and Alabama over the water in the Chattahoochee River, Florida failed to prove that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ignored any evidence when it decided how much water Georgia should release downstream of Jim Woodruff Dam to support Florida’s endangered species.
In 2008, wildlife officials with the service determined that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ interim operations plan would not jeopardize the survival of threatened Gulf sturgeon and three freshwater mussel species.
“We are gratified by Judge Magnuson’s order, which acknowledges the Service’s scientific expertise in forecasting the effect of flows on listed species,” said Cynthia Dohner, the southeast regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a statement. “Our biological opinion was based on the best science available, and we haven’t stopped there. We continue to monitor the species and the habitats affected by the federal dams on the Chattahoochee River to better understand the total impact on federally protected species.”
Magnuson’s ruling Wednesday does not change his 2009 decision that Georgia was, for the most part, illegally tapping Lake Lanier, a massive reservoir on the northern end of the Chattahoochee River basin, to supply drinking water to much of metro-Atlanta.
Magnuson has threatened to severely restrict drinking water access to the reservoir if Georgia cannot negotiate a new agreement on how to share the water with Florida and Alabama or have Congress reauthorize the reservoir by July 2012.
Still, Georgia’s governor praised Wednesday’s ruling, saying it will limit the strain on Georgia’s water resources.
“Judge Magnuson’s rejection of Florida’s efforts to seek a judicial decree for higher downstream flows that were not supported by science or the law is a major victory for Georgia,” Perdue said in a statement. “Any kind of higher guaranteed flow for Florida would have put a strain on Georgia communities up and down the Chattahoochee River.”
While at the same time calling Florida’s legal cry for more water to support the survival of endangered species “a ruse to try and wring more water out of Georgia,” Perdue encouraged the governors of Alabama and Florida to restart water sharing negotiations.
“With this ruling in hand, it is time for the three governors to come back together at the negotiating table and continue our ongoing efforts to finally reach a water-sharing agreement that benefits all three states,” Perdue said. “We stand ready and willing to engage at the earliest opportunity possible.”