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Georgia, Florida go after each other in ‘water wars’ arguments before U.S. Supreme Court
Lake Lanier
City of Gainesville water intake from Lake Lanier near the Riverside water treatment plant. - photo by By Scott Rogers

Georgia and Florida swiped at each other before the U.S. Supreme Court Monday morning in an ongoing fight over water flows from Georgia into Florida at the Apalachicola Bay in the Gulf of Mexico.

“It’s hard to imagine New England without lobsters or the Chesapeake without crabs, but in effect, that’s the future the Apalachicola now faces when it comes to its oysters and other species,” Florida lawyer Gregory Garre told justices in Feb. 22 arguments before the court.

The state is seeking an “equitable apportioning” of waters in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier in the headwaters, alleging that “overconsumption” by Georgia has led to economic and ecological harm in the bay.   

“Florida has an equal right to the reasonable use of the water at issue,” Garre told justices in a teleconference live-streamed by C-SPAN. “If the court accepts the special master’s recommendation, that right will be extinguished and the Apalachicola — not to mention the communities that have fished (and been) dependent on it for centuries — will be lost.”

U.S. Circuit Judge Paul J. Kelly, who was appointed by the court to hear from both sides on the issue, recommended in December 2019 that justices not grant Florida’s request for an “equitable apportioning” of waters in the basin.

Georgia’s lawyer, Craig S. Primis, said Florida “has not shown by clear and convincing evidence that Georgia caused Georgia’s alleged harms” in the bay.

“Instead, the record shows that Florida allowed oyster fishing at unprecedented levels in the years preceding the collapse,” he told justices.

Georgia maintained that it accounts for more than 90% of the population, employment and “economic output” in the basin, the state’s total water consumption is 2.4% of “state line” flows in wet years and 6.1% in dry years.

In Monday’s session, lawyers for both sides were allowed to give opening and closing remarks, and in between, were peppered with questions from justices. The arguments lasted about an hour.

The court will issue a ruling later.

The battle with Florida is the latest chapter in water litigation also involving Alabama that dates to 1990. The last critical decision was in 2012, when the Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision to deny requests by Alabama and Florida to review whether water supply is an authorized purpose of Lake Lanier.

 See original story here.