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Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River System - Timeline Quick Links

Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River System (ACF) Timeline of Action
As of July 27, 2009
 

The Apalachicola River is the largest in Florida in terms of flow and the fourth largest river in the southeastern United States. The River is formed at the union of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. The Chattahoochee River originates in north Georgia, runs along the Alabama and Georgia border, and joins the Flint River at the Florida and Georgia border to become the Apalachicola River. The Apalachicola River discharges its nutrient-rich freshwater into the Apalachicola Bay, one of the most productive estuarine systems on the Gulf of Mexico coast.

The biological productivity of the bay is strongly influenced by the amount, timing and duration of the freshwater inflow from the Apalachicola River. The river provides the bay with essential nutrients that form the base of the bay’s food web. Alteration of the river’s flows disrupts the input of these nutrients and undermines the foundation for the unique ecosystem found there. The freshwater flow into the bay also affects the bay’s salinity. Oysters, the hallmark commercial species of the bay, depend on freshwater regulated salinity to protect them from disease and excessive predation. The total commercial fishing industry in the Apalachicola Bay is responsible for $134,000,000 in economic output and an additional $71,000,000 in value added impacts.

Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), have been engaged in litigation over sharing the waters within the basin of the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint (ACF) Rivers. The disputes have focused primarily on the Corps’ operation of its four Chattahoochee River dams. The largest is Buford Dam, which forms Lake Lanier located north of Atlanta. Lake Lanier accounts for over 60 percent of the water storage in the ACF Basin.

There are seven separate lawsuits, some of which date back to the 1970s, that are now consolidated in one court before one federal judge who is preparing to issue rulings in Spring 2009.
 

Timeline
 

  • July 27, 2009 – Secretary Sole sends an email update about the legal proceedings for the ACF River Basin, including Judge Paul Magnuson’s July 17th ruling, to Florida’s Congressional delegation. Read email.
     
  • July 17, 2009 - U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson ruled that Congress needs to approve use of the water from Lake Lanier for water supply. In addition, Judge Magnuson ordered that all water withdrawals be frozen at current levels for the next three years until Congressional authorization is given or if some other resolution is reached. If Congress does not approve a reallocation within that period, then water withdrawals from Lake Lanier will revert to “baseline” operation of the mid-1970s. Read DEP’s press release. Read the judge’s ruling [PDF - 258KB].
     
  • May 28, 2009 - Governor Crist encourages federal support for Everglades restoration and Apalachicola River and Bay. Read Letter [PDF - 110KB]

  • May 22, 2009 - Response to Florida’s recent letters of May 8 and May 18, 2009, concerning operations under the revised interim operations plan (RIOP) for releases at Jim Woodruff Lock and Dam. Read letter [PDF - 537KB]

  • May 18, 2009 - Florida Department of Environmental Protection letter to Colonel Byron Jorns regarding continued disregard of ACF Revised Interim Operations Plan (RIOP). Read letter [PDF - 992KB]

  • May 11, 2009 - Florida and the other parties in the seven consolidated cases pending in federal court in Jacksonville presented oral arguments on the motions filed in January before Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson. Florida and Alabama argued that while water supply was originally intended by Congress to be an incidental benefit of releases made to satisfy the authorized hydropower and navigation purposes, the Corps has converted it to the dominant purpose served by Lake Lanier. Moreover, in this briefing, the Corps has acknowledged that its actions effect a de facto storage reallocation. Although this de facto storage reallocation at Lake Lanier constitutes “major operational change” and “seriously affects” the congressionally authorized purposes of the reservoir, the Corps has declined to seek, much less secure, congressional approval, as required by law. The Court took the arguments under advisement.

  • May 8, 2009 - DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole sent a request to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers District Commander, Colonel Byron Jorns and asked the Colonel to review and correct an erroneous Corps staff reinterpretation of the Revised Interim Operation Plan for the Jim Woodruff Dam. Additionally, Secretary Sole asked Colonel Jorns to provide clarification in writing on a project listed in the Corps’ American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – Civil Works Expenditure Plan. Read letter [PDF - 1.5MB]
     
  • January 23, 2009 - Alabama and Florida's Joint Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on All Phase 1 Claims, Factual Appendix and Notice of Declarations (Parts 1A and 2) Within this motion, Alabama and Florida challenge the Corps’ operation of Lake Lanier for the benefit of municipal and industrial (M&I) water supply rather than the three authorized purposes for which Congress approved the reservoir’s construction -- power generation, downstream navigation support, and flood control. Since the 1970s, the Corps has allowed Atlanta-area water suppliers to withdraw ever-increasing amounts of water from Lake Lanier, and this has continued even though all of the contracts purporting to authorize such withdrawals expired in 1990. Through its actions, the Corps has reallocated storage in Lake Lanier from the congressionally authorized purposes of hydropower generation and downstream navigation support to M&I water supply, without obtaining Congressional approval.


    Florida and Alabama are asking the court to find that the Corps’ actions in reallocating storage in Lake Lanier is unlawful and that the Corps has implemented the draft 1989 water control plan, including its action zones, in violation of the procedural requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Water Resources Development Act, the Water Supply Act and the Corps’ own regulations. The Court has indicated that it will take on the issue of the appropriate remedy with respect to any claim after deciding the merits of Alabama and Florida’s claims.

     
  • January 12, 2009 - The U.S. Supreme Court denied Georgia’s petition to review the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision from February. Florida maintains that the United States Army Corps of Engineers and Georgia cannot allocate the water for water supply purposes without Congressional approval. Read Governor Crist’s statement on the decision.
     
  • December 5, 2008 - Florida and Alabama filed a joint brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in opposition to Georgia’s appeal. The appeal asks the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, in which Florida and Alabama prevailed when that court nullified the 2003 agreement between the U.S. Army Corps, Georgia, and Atlanta area water suppliers, saying, among other things, that the agreement changed the purposes of Lake Lanier and required approval from Congress. We are hopeful that Georgia’s pending ask for writ of certiorari to have the case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court will be rejected. Read brief [PDF - 318KB]
     
  • August 8, 2008 – Florida Department of Environmental Protection sent a letter to Dr. Carol Couch, Director of Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, regarding a National Research Council (NRC) study for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river system. Read Letter [PDF - 317KB]
     
  • June 19, 2008 – Florida Department of Environmental Protection letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers stating Florida’s intent to sue the Corps for violating the Endangered Species Act as a result of its operations under the Revised Interim Operating Plan (RIOP). Read Letter [PDF - 3.23MB]
     
  • June 2, 2008 - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service releases the Biological Opinion for the Corps’ Proposed Revision to the Interim Operations Plan. Read the Opinion [PDF - 4.53 MB], an FAQ [PDF - 476 KB], and the Service’s press release.
     
  • May 16, 2008 – Florida pleased with ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, denying the State of Georgia’s petition for a rehearing on the court’s February opinion that invalidated the 2003 settlement agreement (see February 5, 2008). DEP will continue with our ongoing efforts simultaneously in both legal and policy venues to protect and sustain the Apalachicola River and Bay ecosystem. Read Opinion [PDF - 42.7KB].


  • May 6, 2008 - Florida Department of Environmental Protection sends letter to the United States Army Corps of Engineers with comments on extended reduction of flow from Buford Dam requested by the State of Georgia. Read letter [PDF - 2.02MB].
     
  • May 1, 2008 - Congressional Research Service's report to Congress on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Drought: Federal Water Management Issues [PDF - 327KB].
     
  • April 30, 2008 - Florida Department of Environmental Protection sends letter to the United States Army Corps of Engineers with comments on extended reduction of flow from Buford Dam requested by the State of Georgia. Read letter [PDF - 2.02MB].
     
  • April 15, 2008 - U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases proposed revision to the Interim Operating Plan.
     
  • March 7, 2008 - After the end of the tri-state discussion, DEP held a third toll-free conference call with stakeholders to discuss expected next steps and the Corps’ intent to rewrite the water control manuals and conduct a basin-wide Environmental Impact Statement.
     
  • March 5, 2008
    Congressional Research Service issues Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Drought: Federal Water Management Issues Report [PDF - 314KB].
     
  • MARCH 1, 2008

    Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Jim Connaughton sent a letter to the governors of Alabama, Georgia and Florida regarding the water negotiations among the three states. Read letter [PDF - 35KB].

     
  • FEBRUARY 28, 2008
    State of Florida’s Comments regarding Proposed Reduction of Flow from Buford Dam by United States Army Corps of Engineers. On Thursday, February 21, 2008, the Corps of Engineers solicited comments concerning Georgia’s request to reduce outflows from Buford Dam as a temporary drought contingency measure. Florida generally opposes the proposed reduction, but will not object to its temporary implementation, provided the measure does not continue beyond April 1, 2008.

    “While we appreciate Georgia’s need to conserve storage in light of the current drought conditions, Florida believes more emphasis should be placed on actions that do not harm downstream users, such as conservation measures being implemented and consistently in place.”

     
  • FEBRUARY 22, 2008
    Army Corps of Engineers releases Notice of Intent to Prepare Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Updated Water Control Manuals for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.  
  • FEBRUARY 15, 2008 Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne agrees to extend the deadline for the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia to negotiate on issues related to the drought currently affecting the southeastern United States.
     
  • FEBRUARY 5, 2008
    In January 2003, the Corps, Georgia and other parties unveiled a settlement agreement in which the Corps committed to provide Georgia at least twenty years of “interim” water supply storage contracts and to reallocate Lake Lanier’s storage to municipal and industrial uses. Florida intervened in the case and objected to the settlement agreement. The court ultimately approved the settlement agreement despite those objections. Florida appealed that judgment. On February 5, 2008, the United States Court of Appeals invalidated the 2003 agreement between the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Georgia, Southeastern Federal Power Customers, Inc. and a group of Georgia water supply providers. Read Opinion
     
  • February 1, 2008
    The Department held its fourth meeting since November 2007 with the stakeholders, in Blountstown to discuss the current status of tri-state negotiations.
     
  • DECEMBER 2007 – JANUARY 2008
    High ranking officials from Florida, Georgia and Alabama meet to develop a new drought protocol for all three states. The protocol is scheduled for release February 15, 2008.
     
  • DECEMBER 17, 2007
    Florida, Georgia and Alabama Governors Charlie Crist, Sonny Perdue, Bob Riley and U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne hold a day long meeting, at the Florida Governor’s Mansion, to address the short- and long-term needs of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) river basins.
     
  • DECEMBER 10, 2007

  • Environmental organizations send letters to Governor Crist regarding upcoming tri-state meeting of Governors Crist, Perdue and Riley.
     
  • DECEMBER 7, 2007
    The United States Army Corps of Engineers sends a letter to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service providing supplemental information to the November 21, 2007 letter regarding triggers used to determine additional reduction of flows from Jim Woodruff Dam.
     
  • DECEMBER 5, 2007
  • Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael W. Sole sends a letter to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Army Corps of Engineers stating Florida objections to any further reduction of Apalachicola River flow based on the triggers proposed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ November 21, 2007 letter. Prolonged low flow under the Interim Operations Plan coupled with the initial flow reduction pursuant to the Corps’ Exceptional Drought Operations, has wrought compelling damage on Florida’s highly sensitive aquatic resources.
    “Florida remains hopeful that the Governors can develop a solution to the ongoing drought conflict in Tallahassee when they meet this month. In the meantime, the Corps must provide the Service with information adequate to perform a reasonable analysis of the Corps’ proposal, and the Service should take no action that would further harm threatened and endangered species or any of Florida’s coastal resources, obligations outlined above have been met.”
     
  • NOVEMBER 21, 2007
  • The United States Army Corps of Engineers sends a letter to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service asking for further reduction of flows from 4,750 cfs to 4,500 cfs.
     
  • NOVEMBER 13, 2007
    Group of Environmental Organizations submits comments to United States Fish & Wildlife Service on potential harm a reduction of water flows would have on the Panhandle’s natural resources and economy. Florida Department of Environmental Protection Issues Statement Applauding Stakeholders’ Letter to Federal Agencies on Tri-State Water Negotiations.
     
  • NOVEMBER 7, 2007
    Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael W. Sole sends a letter to the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the United States Fish & Wildlife Services expressing concerns about proposal offered by federal agencies and reiterates the need for the three states to work on a long-term solution that is comprehensive and addresses the needs of all three states.
     
  • NOVEMBER 2, 2007
    Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael W. Sole issues statement regarding United States Army Corps of Engineers proposal. “At the press conference yesterday in Washington, D.C., a four-point plan was announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Florida is carefully reviewing the proposal at this time. It is anticipated there will be a biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by November 15, to ensure protection of Florida’s threatened and endangered species. We encourage all stakeholders to review the opinion and provide feedback to safeguard the ecosystem as well as the people and the economy of Northwest Florida.”
     
  • NOVEMBER 1, 2007
    Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Alabama Governor Bob Riley and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue meet in Washington, D.C., with federal officials. Florida agrees to evaluate a forthcoming proposal by the Army Corps outlined at the press conference. Governor Crist offers to host the Alabama and Georgia governors in Tallahassee in December to work on a long-term holistic agreement for protecting the tri-state ecosystem.
     
  • November 2007
    To enhance ACF stakeholder participation, DEP established an email account dedicated to ACF issues. This account is used to provide the stakeholders information on current ACF activities and serves as a means for the stakeholders to provide input to the Department.
     
  • OCTOBER 24, 2007
    Florida Governor Charlie Crist sends a letter to President George W. Bush regarding the State of Georgia's request to suspend operating rules for the reservoirs on the Chattahoochee River.
  • “The Florida Panhandle is facing economic peril as a result of insufficient water flows. The Apalachicola River and Bay support a multi-million dollar commercial fishing industry. The total commercial fishing industry in the Apalachicola Bay is responsible for $134,000,000 in economic output and an additional $71,000,000 in value added impacts.”
     
  • OCTOBER 17, 2007
    Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael W. Sole sent a letter to Colonel Byron Jorns, Commander and District Engineer, Department of the Army, regarding Georgia's "Request for Immediate Alteration of Interim Operations Plan.”
     
  • MARCH 20, 2007
    Alabama and Georgia lawsuits were consolidated and transferred to the Middle District of Florida. This determination was based on the Multi-District Panel’s determination “that centralization in the Middle District of Florida will serve the convenience of the parties and witnesses and promote the just and efficient conduct of the litigation.”
     
  • SEPTEMBER 2006

  • The Service releases a biological opinion, calling for no modifications to Corps’ operations to benefit Gulf Sturgeon or its habitat. Florida challenges the opinion because it unreasonably concludes that the Corps’ reservoir operations do not threaten survival of the protected species and do not destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. The Service then asks the court to transfer the case to the Alabama court. Georgia has intervened and filed a cross-claim against the Service. The Atlanta area water suppliers are also seeking to intervene. The Corps is not a party to this suit.
     
  • JULY 2006
    Florida presented proof that the Corps’ plan was causing the death of a significant percentage of the mussels along the River. The court issued an order that found that protected mussels were dying by the hundreds, and that more would die unless flows were increased. However, the court refused to order the Corps to increase releases from the reservoirs based on the conclusion that the continued existence of the mussels was not jeopardized and that the harm to the mussels was due to “natural” causes, and not the Corps’ management of the reservoirs.
     
  • MARCH 2006
    The Corps admitted that impacts to protected mussels may occur whenever flows in the Apalachicola are below 8,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). The Corps, however, announced an operation plan that would permit flows to decrease to 5000 cfs.
     
  • JANUARY 2006
    Florida requested that the court direct the Corps to comply with its obligations under the Endangered Species Act. Florida challenged the Corps’ failure to formally consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the impact of the Corps’ ACF reservoir operations on threatened Gulf sturgeon, endangered fat threeridge mussels, and threatened purple bankclimber mussels located in the Apalachicola River.
     
  • AUGUST 2003
    Governors Bush, Riley and Perdue are unable to reach an agreement. Due in large part to the revelations concerning secret negotiations between the Corps and Georgia concerning issues Florida had reason to believe would be addressed in good faith solely within the ACF Compact negotiations, the ACF Compact was allowed to expire in August 2003.
     
  • JANUARY 2003

  • The Corps, Georgia and other parties to the D.C. mediation unveiled a settlement agreement in which the Corps committed to provide Georgia at least twenty years of “interim” water supply storage contracts and to reallocate Lake Lanier’s storage to municipal and industrial uses. Florida intervened in the D.C. case and objected to the settlement agreement. The D.C. court ultimately approved the settlement agreement over those objections. Florida appealed that judgment, and filed its initial brief in the appellate court on February 1.
     
  • 2001

  • Georgia filed its first lawsuit against the Corps, in which it sought to compel the Corps to approve the reallocation of storage in Lake Lanier.

     
  • 1997

  • Congress passed, and the three states ratified, the ACF Compact. The primary purposes of the ACF Compact were “interstate comity, removing causes of present and future controversies, and equitably apportioning the surface waters of the ACF.”
     
  • 1992

  • The three states and the Corps agreed to a comprehensive study of the ACF Basin to provide information on water availability, forecast water needs, and examine options for meeting those needs. The states then agreed to enter into an interstate compact.
     
  • 1990
     Alabama sued the Corps in federal court in Alabama, challenging the proposed change as violating various federal statutes. In September 1990, the three states and the Corps agreed to pursue a negotiated solution, and the Alabama case was stayed.
     
  • 1989
    The Corps announced a proposal to change the uses of Lake Lanier to allow for increased withdrawals for Georgia municipal water users.
     
  • 1970s
    The Corps began entering into “interim” contracts with Georgia water suppliers to permit withdrawals from Lake Lanier.

Last updated: January 17, 2012

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