Judge rejects Florida demand for water in dispute

ATLANTA -- A federal judge has declined Florida's request to release more water from a north Georgia dam to protect three threatened or endangered species downstream.

The Wednesday ruling from U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson rejected releasing more water from dams along the Chattahoochee River to benefit the gulf sturgeon, the fat threeridge mussel and the purple bankclimber mussel.

But it does not change an earlier decision from Magnuson that metro Atlanta has little legal right to drinking water from Lake Lanier. The judge has said he will severely restrict Atlanta's use of that reservoir in 2012 unless political leaders in Georgia, Alabama and Florida reach a deal to end 30 years of fighting over water usage.

In his ruling, the judge said that Florida failed to prove that the federal wildlife officials ignored any evidence in deciding how much water Georgia should release downstream to support Florida's endangered species.

''They merely contend that the ultimate conclusion is incorrect,'' the judge wrote of Florida's attorneys.

A spokesman for Florida Gov. Charlie Crist did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Increasing the amount of water reaching Florida would mean releasing more water from reservoirs in Georgia -- a nonstarter for Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue. His spokesman, Bert Brantley, said releasing more water ''would have put an incredible strain on Georgia communities'' and the millions who depend on the water supply.

Brantley said the decision will allow the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida to focus on a water-sharing agreement without having to worry about the endangered species issue complicating the negotiations.

''This was a total victory for Georgia and it means this side issue -- this distracting issue of endangered species claims -- is resolved,'' Brantley said.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said the judge's ruling shows the Army Corps of Engineers failed to conduct a proper environmental analysis of the water issue. His state wants an appellate court to uphold Magnuson's ruling restricting Atlanta's tapping of Lake Lanier.

''The law is clear that Lake Lanier cannot be used for water supply without congressional approval,'' Riley said.