Governors Kemp, Ivey Announce Agreement in Long-running Chattahoochee River Water Lawsuit

Staff Report

Wednesday, December 13th, 2023

Governor Brian P. Kemp of Georgia and Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama announced that they have reached an agreement with the United States Army Corps of Engineers expected to end a lawsuit brought by Alabama while assuring both states’ citizens who live and work in the Mid- and Lower Chattahoochee River Basin of sufficient minimum water flows during times of drought.

“This agreement is a win-win for our states, with neither side sacrificing what is important to them,” said Governor Brian Kemp. “The Chattahoochee River is the lifeblood of southwest Georgia, and this proposal would give citizens and businesses certainty about the flow of water they need for business and leisure alike. Just as significant, adoption of this proposal would end the current issues related to water supply for metro Atlanta at Lake Lanier, which is crucial to the future of our State. As we put this chapter behind us, I'm thankful for the diligent efforts of Attorney General Chris Carr; my Executive Counsel David Dove; John Allen, Shelly Ellerhorst, and the entire team at KMCL Law; and so many others whose work has made our state proud.”

“I agree with Governor Kemp that this is a win-win solution for both Alabama and Georgia,” Governor Ivey said. “Alabama and Georgia have a lot in common. But we have spent a lot of time — and a lot of money on attorney fees — fighting in court over water. This proposal is a big deal for Alabama as the Corps has never before set minimum water-flow objectives in the parts of the Chattahoochee that affect us. It would provide Alabama with long-term assurances that, in times of drought, our citizens will be protected, and our stakeholders will know how much water is coming their way.”

Under the agreement, the Corps of Engineers will begin formally considering a first-of-its-kind proposal to operate its dams and reservoirs to achieve minimum water-flow objectives at Columbus, Georgia, and Columbia, Alabama on the Chattahoochee River along the States’ border. The proposal also provides that the Corps would continue to maintain the necessary minimum elevation at Lake Seminole, located in southwest Georgia, approximately twenty miles southwest of Bainbridge.

The proposal is being made to resolve litigation Alabama brought challenging the Corps’ operations in the region, including the Corps’ policy allowing Georgia to make water-supply withdrawals near Atlanta. Although this specific case was filed in 2017, litigation between the parties over these issues has been in the courts since 1990.

The Corps’ consideration of the proposal will be subject to a public-comment period and environmental review that could last several months. If the Corps adopts the proposal, Alabama will dismiss its appeal in this matter following a one-year review period, and the litigation will end. If the Corps does not adopt the proposal, Alabama’s lawsuit will resume.

Both governors thanked and commended state officials who have been essential to bringing about this agreement — Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, as well as officials in the Alabama Office of Water Resources and the Georgia Department of Environmental Protection. The governors also thanked the Corps of Engineers for its willingness to initiate the formal process of considering this proposal.

This agreement represents a spirit of cooperation that both Governors Ivey and Kemp hope to continue as we seek the best outcomes for our shared river basins.