Feds approve water plan favoring Atlanta, but more litigation looms

Federal officials approved a water plan Thursday that would give metro Atlanta virtually all the water it needs from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River, a decision that likely will trigger a wave of new litigation from Georgia’s neighbors.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it has given final approval for a water manual that was last updated in 1989 and at the center of legal challenges from Florida and Alabama. It has been an ongoing target in the decades-long water wars feud between the three states.

The updated manual aims to take into account the needs of boaters, barges and power plants, as well as residents of an increasingly thirsty metro Atlanta.

It allows Forsyth, Gwinnett and Hall to withdraw more than 240 million gallons a day from Lanier. And it would let Atlanta and Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties to tap an additional 379 million gallons a day from Lanier and the Chattahoochee. Regional officials say that’s enough to satisfy the area’s demands through 2050.

The manual is a victory for state and city officials who also recently notched another win in the long-running water fight. A judicial official urged the U.S. Supreme Court to reject strict new water consumption limits after years of litigation and five weeks of trial in Maine.

But the corps’ decision likely opens the door to a new round of lawsuits from critics of the plan who couldn’t seek legal action until the plan was finalized.

Georgia business boosters and environmentalists have long touted water conservation efforts to federal regulators, though state lawmakers have yet to sign off this year on a measure to extend a sales tax holiday for energy and water efficient products.