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Water 'victory' gives officials reason to smile

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Gwinnett Board of Commissioners Chairman Charles Bannister is encouraged by a ruling this week that could help the county continue using Lake Lanier for its water.

"This ruling is good news for Gwinnett County and the state of Georgia because it clearly puts the issue of water supply back on the table," Bannister said.

In the latest move in the decades-long water wars, a federal judge said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could consider drinking water use in future plans for controlling the water in the lake. Florida's request to release more water from Buford Dam to protect three threatened or endangered species in Appalachicola Bay was denied.

A year ago, the same judge ruled that drinking water is not a mandated use of the water, and he called on Congress to add it.

Since then, negotiations between Georgia, Alabama and Florida have stalled, but Georgia officials are encouraged this week's ruling could allow them to begin again.

"This was a total victory for Georgia, and it means this side issue -- this distracting issue of endangered species claims -- is resolved," said Bert Brantley, spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue.