The office of Gov. Nathan Deal called the federal court ruling on Atlanta’s access to the waters of Lake Lanier a “total victory” for Georgia.
No, not exactly.
For the umpteenth time over more than 20 years and through administrations and Legislatures of both parties, we’ll say it again: While the interests of the state of Georgia and our massive capital city certainly overlap, they are not inherently synonymous.
In water issues, in fact, they have often been in conflict. And Georgians in downriver communities like this one have built up more than two decades’ worth of frustration trying to convince the powers under the gold dome that the water interests of “Georgia” mean something other than pumping enough into Atlanta to supply the city’s open-ended sprawl until the end of recorded time.
From a legal perspective, Georgia’s team of attorneys did indeed prevail with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in overturning a 2-year-old ruling that had put the state at the mercy of a fast-ticking clock. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled in July 2009 that Lake Lanier, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers impoundment on the Chattahoochee north of Atlanta, had never been constructed for the purpose of supplying Atlanta with water. The court gave the state three years to work out a water sharing agreement with Alabama and Florida before the tap would be turned off — an outcome that would be nothing less than devastating for millions in and around Atlanta.
Alabama and Florida attorneys took Magnuson’s point a step further: Not only was Lake Lanier not impounded to supply Atlanta with water, but it was a federal rather than a state or municipal project — the city did not pay for it, and therefore has no legal right to appropriate its waters.
The court unanimously ruled otherwise: “We know that Congress contemplated that water supply may have to be increased over time as the Atlanta area grows,” the judges wrote.
Unless there’s a specific law or precedent in there somewhere, to base a ruling this profound on what judges say they “know” Congress “contemplated” half a century ago sounds suspiciously like that dreaded “judicial activism” we’ve all been taught to fear and loathe.
We’ve already had federal judges swing all the way to one side and then to the other. That’s not how any of us should want something this important to be decided.
— Enquirer Online: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com