Atlanta comes up dry in water ruling

Shoreline and islands at Lake Lanier in northern Georgia.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: Moving up the Atlantic seaboard a bit, there's a new chapter in the southeast water wars, and it's raising questions about whether Atlanta can keep growing during a record drought. Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been suing each other over water for 18 years. Yesterday, an appeals court said Atlanta doesn't have any legal rights to the water from a federal reservoir outside the city because Lake Lanier flows to the downstream states as well.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


NANCY MARSHALL GENZER: Some of Atlanta's critics say this court decision means the city should stop issuing new building permits until it can prove it has a long-term water supply.

GEORGE WILLIAM SHERK: It might happen, but pigs would probably fly first.

That's George William Sherk, a water law expert at the Colorado School of Mines. He says Georgia could ask Congress to change the law and give it rights to Lake Lanier's water, but that's also about as likely as a flying pig.
Sherk says the uncertainty caused by yesterday's ruling could scare developers away from Atlanta. Those who keep building houses might face new water fees.

SHERK: We're looking at hookup costs that can easily run 10 percent of the price of a house.

Atlanta officials insist there's plenty of water to go around. Chick Krautler heads the Atlanta Regional Commission, which is in charge of water use.

CHICK KRAUTLER: The issue is how much water is available for our downstream neighbors? How do we share the water supply that's available?

The governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida are supposed to come up with a water-sharing plan by February 15. Georgia says it's committed to that process, but it's keeping its legal options open. It may appeal yesterday's decision to the Supreme Court.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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