Forsyth County wins access to Lake Lanier, ending decades-long "Water Wars"

Justine Lookenott

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A new water intake facility on Lake Lanier in Forsyth County is expected to be completed in six years(Image by Capitol Beat)

(Forsyth County, GA) After 30 years of legal battles, Forsyth County joined Hall and Gwinnett Counties in winning the “Water Wars” to ensure water rights from Lake Lanier through 2050.

On Monday, September 26, Forsyth County representatives joined Governor Brian Kemp, former Governor Nathan Deal, Environmental Protection Division Director Rick Dunn and other local officials at the State Capitol to announce the Lake Lanier Water Service Agreement.

“This landmark agreement is the final step in a 30-year-long process to secure water rights for Lake Lanier,” Kemp said. “For our growing population and job creators, this is a crucial asset.”

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The Lake Lanier Water Service Provider agreement was announced on September 26 at the Georgia Capitol(Image by Office of Georgia Governor Brian P. Kemp)

About the “Water Wars”

When it was first created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s, Lake Lanier was not meant to be used as a water supply; it was intended for flood control and recreational uses. But today it has become the largest water source in north Georgia, providing water to 1.5 million residents and businesses.

What became known as the “Tri-State Water Wars” litigation involved Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. According to the Atlanta Regional Commission, it has spanned over three decades with each state claiming rights to the use of the water supply.

The three states heavily depend on two water basins, the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT), for many needs including agriculture, drinking water and power generation. The two basins provide 80 percent of the metro Atlanta area's water needs.

In 1990, Alabama sued the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which had plans to give additional water from Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona to the growing city of Atlanta. Alabama claimed that it was not given a fair amount to their needs farther downstream.

While the dispute has evolved over the decades, the general argument remains the same: How much water should each state get based on its needs?

The most recent battle in the “Water Wars” began when Florida accused Georgia of using too much water during a drought, which they say destroyed the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay in 2012.

In April 2021, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Georgia after finding that Florida had not demonstrated that Georgia was the cause of the oyster industry's demise and that Florida’s oyster farming in the years leading up to 2012 and its failure to reshell the oyster bars was the more likely culprit.

The ruling opened the doors for Forsyth County to finally look into providing its own water, something the County government was quick to jump on.

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A map of the water system in the Georgia, Florida and Alabama region(Image by U.S. Corps of Engineers)

What this means for Georgia and Forsyth County

The contract agreement gives the state 254,170 acre-feet of water storage, or 13 percent of Lake Lanier when at full water levels. This means that at least 222 million gallons of water per day will be provided by the lake; 80 percent of the water will be allocated to the three surrounding counties with 20 percent reserved for future use.

About $71 million is expected to be paid back to the Army Corps of Engineers to cover the cost of water storage, in addition to annual operations and maintenance costs over the next 30 years. As of now, the state has made two payments toward this total, about $14 million. Once the total cost is paid, Georgia will have permanent rights to the water storage.

Historically, Forsyth County has relied on the city of Cumming for its water supply, spending about $3 million per year. The Supreme Court win in 2021 gave the County the green light to pursue an $85 million project to draw its own water from Lake Lanier, which will provide 20 million gallons of water a day, in order to provide for the County’s rapidly growing population, according to the Forsyth County website.

The water intake facility is expected to be complete in approximately six years.

For more information, visit the water intake facility project information page on the Forsyth County website.

If you have a news tip in Forsyth County, contact Justine Lookenott at justine.lookenott@newsbreak.com.

To learn more about the “Water Wars” and Forsyth County, read “Water Wars” victory leads to FoCo getting an independent water supply.”

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I cover local news in Forsyth County, GA. My debut into the writing world began at the age of 10 when I won an essay contest in Around Acworth Magazine in which I wrote about spending the summer with my pet goat, Eclair. Since graduating from Kennesaw State University, I have been published in several newspapers and magazines in the Atlanta area including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Atlanta School Guide, What Now Atlanta, Newcomer Magazine, the Marietta Daily Journal and the Cherokee Tribune.

Forsyth County, GA
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