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Alabama, Florida Ask SCOTUS for Lake Lanier Water Rights Ruling

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 15, 2012 9:01 AM

If the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals doesn't want to wade into the interstate Lake Lanier water rights dispute, maybe the Supreme Court will.

In September, the Eleventh Circuit rejected a request from Florida and Alabama to vacate a three-judge panel's unanimous decision regarding the long-running water rights dispute between Florida, Alabama, and Georgia over Lake Lanier water withdrawal. Florida and Alabama asked the Supreme Court to resolve the Lake Lanier dispute on Monday.

Florida, Alabama, and Georgia have been arguing over Lake Lanier water withdrawal rights for decades. While the Atlanta metro area relies on Lake Lanier as the primary water source for almost 3 million people, Florida and Alabama maintain that Congress never intended for Lake Lanier to provide drinking water, reports the Associated Press.

District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled in 2009 that Georgia either had to reach an agreement with her neighbors by July 2012, or return to 1970s water withdrawal levels. In June, however, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that the 1950s legislation approving the construction of the Buford Dam, (which, in turn, created Lake Lanier), anticipated that the metro-Atlanta area would need greater water withdrawal from the lake over time, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The court overruled Magnuson's 2012 water-sharing deadline.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case to the Army Corps of Engineers, which controls Buford Dam, telling the group to review Georgia's water needs against the environmental impact, as well as Florida and Alabama's water demands.

Lawyers for Alabama contend that the Lake Lanier water rights dispute's economic impact is significant. "In terms of dollars and cents, the Eleventh Circuit's ruling has the potential to shift the need for billions of dollars of infrastructure expenditures from the Atlanta region to downstream communities, including those in Alabama and Florida," reports the AP.

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