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Metro Atlanta started the week under the threat of a court order that could have shut off its main water source for 3 million people, making Georgia the needy neighbor in legal negotiations with neighboring Alabama and Florida.

It ends the week holding some of the best cards at the table.

A ruling Tuesday from a three-judge panel on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an lower court order that would have severely curtailed Atlanta's access to water from Lake Lanier on the Chattahoochee River starting in July 2012 unless the three states struck a deal.

Then the appeals court went even further, saying that Georgia has a legal right to water from the lake.

Those involved in the dispute say the ruling fundamentally strengthens Georgia's hand in the long-running fight with its neighbors over how much water metro Atlanta can take from a watershed serving all three states. Georgia officials have been negotiating under the gun for the last two years because of the looming water cutoff.

"We're in a better position because the court has now removed the 2012 deadline," said Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who said he still wants to negotiate a final agreement. Alabama has already said it will appeal the ruling to the full court, while Florida Gov. Rick Scott's office was still reviewing it Wednesday.


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