Georgia appeals water ruling to federal panel

ATLANTA -- Georgia has asked a federal appeals panel to overturn a judge's ruling threatening to drastically restrict the water supply to greater Atlanta unless an agreement is reached by 2012 in a long-running dispute with Alabama and Florida.

In the appeal announced Thursday, Georgia argues that U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson overreached last year by issuing an order that could seriously curtail drinking water for Atlanta residents. The state said the judge misinterpreted laws governing who can take water from Lake Lanier.

Magnuson's ''order ... will be devastating to 3 million residents who have no meaningful alternative source of water,'' lawyers for Georgia said in court documents.

Attorneys for Gwinnett County also filed a separate appeal with the federal appeals panel.

The county, which relies solely on Lake Lanier for its water supply, said Magnuson's order amounted to a ''death penalty for subsistence by existing households and businesses, as well as future economic growth within Gwinnett.''

Florida and Alabama have argued that Georgia takes too much water from Lake Lanier, drying up river flows into their states. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals did not immediately schedule arguments in the case.

The dispute came to a head in July when Judge Magnuson's ruled that Georgia had little legal right to water from Lake Lanier.

The lake is formed by a dam on the Chattahoochee River, which flows through Georgia, Alabama and Florida. It serves as the main source of water for roughly 3 million people in and around Atlanta, the economic engine of the South.

That ruling gave Georgia, Alabama and Florida, which have fought over water rights since the 1990s, three years to reach an agreement. Otherwise, the judge said he could reduce the supply of water that Atlanta can draw from Lake Lanier to levels set in the 1970s, when the city was far smaller.

Besides appealing the ruling, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has restarted talks with the governors of neighboring Florida and Alabama. Georgia lawmakers also recently approved water conservation bills that state officials hope will show it is serious about saving water.