In a unanimous per curiam decision issued on June 28, 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit reversed a controversial July 17, 2009 order by the multi-district litigation (MDL) court presiding over the tri-state water war between Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. That 2009 order imposed a July 2012 deadline for the states to arrive at a water-sharing agreement over the Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin or the Atlanta metropolitan area risked losing much of its primary water supply. The 11th Circuit’s opinion contains two key rulings:
First, the 11th Circuit held that the MDL court erred in finding that it had jurisdiction as to all of the ACF cases. Rather, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) had not taken final agency action with respect to certain of those cases, and the claims alleged in those cases were premature. Second, it held that the MDL court and the Corps of Engineers had erred in concluding that water supply was not an authorized purpose for Lake Lanier under the 1946 Rivers and Harbors Act; and therefore, the 11th Circuit directed the Corps to reconsider Georgia's 2000 water supply request and fashion an allocation plan that takes water supply into account as a fully authorized purpose of Lake Lanier. In addition to providing certain instructions in connection with this remand, the 11th Circuit directed the Corps of Engineers to arrive at a well-reasoned, definitive and final judgment as to its water supply authority under the controlling federal legislation, and the 11th Circuit retained limited jurisdiction to monitor compliance with this directive for one year.
Alabama has already announced its intention to seek to have the full 11th Circuit reconsider this decision. If the Court does not reconsider its ruling, the matter will be returned to the District Court where it will be remanded back to the Corps to issue a new Water Control Manual for the ACF basin, which they have already been working on for some time now.