On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court placed Georgia officials in the best position possible in the decades-long argument with Florida and Alabama over what has been known as the tri-state Water Wars.
The disagreement over much of metro Atlanta's usage from Lake Lanier has been a two-on-one affair, with Alabama and Florida facing off against Georgia. At one point, Georgia state officials seemed poised to dig up old state-line survey records that appear to be in error and open a third battle front against Tennessee over rights to the Tennessee River.
In fact, at one point Georgia's negotiating position looked particularly bleak. A federal judge ruled that Congress had never intended for Atlanta to take drinking water from the Lake Lanier reservoir and gave the states three years to work out a deal before, barring an act of Congress, he ordered the tap shut off to much of metro Atlanta.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, threw out that decision, and Alabama and Florida took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the nation's highest court refused to take the appeal, which means the 11th Circuit ruling stands.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it has the legal power to allow metro Atlanta to draw 705 million gallons of water per day from Lake Lanier to meet the metro area's needs for the next 18 years. Whether it will do that has not been finalized.
What this all means is this -- the Supreme Court isn't inclined to settle this dispute and Congress has run away from it like a scalded dog so far. It will be up to the governors of the three states to iron out an agreement.
After the 2009 ruling, Alabama and Florida didn't seem interested in making any concessions and Georgia wasn't in a good bargaining position to demand anything. Now, things are leaning more in Georgia's favor.
It's time to settle this thing once and for all. No one wants to see people thirsty in Atlanta, no one wants to see those downstream shorted and no one wants to see the fishing industry in Florida ruined.
One would think that reasonable people could sit down and reach a reasonable, equitable solution that would take care of Atlanta's needs as well as the needs of those downstream. A solution can be found if those conducting the negotiations remember that, when it gets down to it, we're all neighbors. It's time to act like it.