GAINESVILLE — Water “wars” between Georgia and Florida are sure to continue now that the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted a lawsuit filed by Florida over Georgia’s water consumption in the shared river basin that includes Lake Lanier.
The high court on Monday agreed to hear the states’ long-standing battle over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, which also straddles part of Alabama.
Florida has argued that Georgia is guzzling more than its share of water at the expense of the Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery, which relies on fresh river water mixing with the salty sea to thrive.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott appealed to the Supreme Court to limit Georgia’s water use after the oyster industry’s near collapse, which caused a federal disaster declaration.
Georgia opposed the court’s intervention, saying the Army Corps of Engineers is already working on a new allocation plan.
“It’s not unexpected that the Supreme Court would allow (the suit) to move forward,” Gov. Nathan Deal said.
He said he was “encouraged that the lawyers for the U.S. Corps of Engineers felt this lawsuit was premature.”
“The corps must continue on the ACF manual update and not get bogged down by Florida’s litigation,” Deal said. “... We will take every necessary step to ensure that the corps is able to do its job.”
Georgia has 30 days to file a response to the Supreme Court’s decision.
Scott hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as “huge news and a major victory for Florida.”
It “marks the first of many important victories for the families and businesses of Apalachicola,” he said.
The Supreme Court “takes up so few cases, and (its) willingness to hear Florida’s demonstrates the merits of our case before the court,” Scott said. “We are fighting for the future of this region, and we won’t quit until these resources are restored.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said the lawsuit “is essential to protect Florida from the environmental and economic harms caused by Georgia’s overconsumption of water."
“We look forward to continuing our fight to protect Florida’s fair share of water.”
Attorney General Sam Olens said the Supreme Court’s action “now gives us the opportunity to address head-on — and defeat — Florida’s ridiculous claims."
“Although the time and expense this process will involve is regrettable, I am confident that Georgia will succeed,” Olens said.
“And I want to reinforce how vitally important it is that the corps finish the critical project of updating the water control manuals for the river basin, without any interference from this litigation.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.