U.S. Supreme Court Hears Case on Dispute Between Georgia & Florida

SCOTUS wades into deep waters

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Georgia and Florida have always engaged in a tussle over the use of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, a fight that has lasted for nearly thirty years. The operation of Lake Lanier’s Buford Dam is a project that was engineered by the U.S Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950’s to address such issues as flood control, navigation and hydropower.

With the passing of time, the Lanier became the main source of drinking water for Atlanta. However, Alabama and Florida expressed discontentment and argued that Georgia does not share the water fairly. Florida claims Georgia is using too much water to slake the thirst of fast-growing metro Atlanta and water crops in the Southwest Georgia farm belt, to the detriment of the oyster industry in Florida’s Apalachicola Bay.

Fishermen oysters apalachicola bay
James Creamer, right, and Victor Causey tong oysters in Apalachicola Bay, Florida (Credit: Mark Wallheiser/Washington Post)

This fight has escalated to the U.S Supreme Court, where Florida is suing Georgia. Some of the issues raised have been that both the residential and commercial facilities in Atlanta and South Georgia are consuming too much water, which in turn hurts the environment and the fishing industry in the Florida Panhandle. Thus, Florida wants the Court to place a cap on Georgia’s water use.

The Court assigned a Special Master, Portland Maine Attorney Ralph Lancaster, to hear the case and make recommendations. Although he agreed that Georgia managed water irresponsibly, his conclusion on February 14, 2017, was that Florida did not present concrete evidence to prove that limiting Georgia’s consumption of water would boost the stream flow in Florida. This is in view of the fact that there are other dams in the same river system and only the Army Corps of Engineers have a final say on how much water flows out of those dams into Florida.

Gregory Garre, arguing on behalf of Florida, began by noting that the special master had agreed “that Florida has suffered real harm as a result of Georgia’s ever increasing consumption of upstream waters” that is “unreasonable and largely unrestrained.”

Gregory agree Georgia Florida water dispute
Gregory Garre, for plaintiff (Scott Lien/SCOTUS blog)

However, not all justices in attendance agreed. Justice Ginsburg suggested that something could possibly be done by the Court to keep the situation from worsening. On Monday, January 8, 2018, Florida and Georgia presented their complete arguments to the Supreme Court.

A final decision on the case is expected by June.

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