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In re MDL-1824 Tri-State Water Rights Litigation

ELR Citation: 41 ELR 20217
Nos. 09-14657, (11th Cir., 06/28/2011)

The Eleventh Circuit held that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers may allocate storage water in Lake Lanier, a reservoir created in 1956 by the completion of Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River, for water supply. A lower court ruled that the Corps' current operation of the Buford Project—Buford Dam and Lake Lanier collectively—had allocated more than 21% of Lake Lanier's storage space to water supply and that such an allocation exceeded the Corp's statutory authority. It ordered the Corps to drastically reduce the quantity of water that it made available for water supply. The court's summary judgment order also affirmed the Corps' rejection of Georgia's 2000 request for additional water supply allocations to meet the needs of the localities through 2030. But the text of the 1946 Rivers and Harbors Act clearly indicates that Congress intended for water supply to be an authorized, rather than incidental, use of the water stored in Lake Lanier. As such, the Act authorized the Corps to allocate storage water in Lake Lanier for water supply. And because the Corps denied Georgia's 2000 request based on a clear error of law—the Corps' misinterpretation of the Rivers and Harbors Act—the Corps' interpretation cannot be granted deference. The Corps also failed to reach a final, determinative position about its water supply authority before rejecting the state's request. Consequently, its decision was arbitrary and capricious or not otherwise in accordance with the law. The court, therefore, reversed the lower court's decision, remanded Georgia's water supply request, and gave the Corps one year to complete its analysis of its water supply authority and release its conclusions.