Bloomberg BNA

Florida asks U.S. supreme court to review Georgia`s ‘Unchecked’ use of shared waters

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Courtesy of Bloomberg BNA

The state of Florida plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court in September to review Georgia's “unchecked and growing consumption of water” from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin after years of failing to negotiate an equitable use of the waters that flow through Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) accused Georgia of not negotiating in good faith to fairly share the waters, saying the state would file an original action lawsuit in the Supreme Court.

“This lawsuit will be targeted toward one thing--fighting for the future of Apalachicola,” Scott said in a statement. “This is a bold, historic legal action for our state. But this is our only way forward after 20 years of failed negotiations with Georgia.”

The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin drains an area that includes northern and western Georgia and eastern Alabama and flows into the Gulf of Mexico at Apalachicola Bay, near Apalachicola, Fla.

Filing an original action in the Supreme Court will be Florida's second attempt to wrest water use rights from Georgia. In June 2012, the Supreme Court declined to step into the middle of a fight among Florida, Alabama, and Georgia over water rights affected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' management of Lake Lanier on the Chattahoochee River.

The three states have been trying to negotiate an agreement since 1997 over minimum flow requirements, general operation standards, and consumption caps but have not been successful.

According to Scott, Apalachicola River water levels are directly impacted by upstream withdrawals from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers at all times, but water levels are particularly affected during the low-flow summer and fall seasons.

Atlanta Relies on Chattahoochee River

The Metro Atlanta area gets its water primarily from the Chattahoochee River with withdrawals totaling 360 million gallons per day.

Georgia's consumption is expected to nearly double to 705 million gallons per day by 2035 as Atlanta's population and water consumption grow. The estimated future daily consumption represents the approximate water volume of the entire Apalachicola Bay, according to Florida officials.

Scott said Georgia's increasing use of water has led to a decline in Florida's oyster population.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and other Florida politicians are backing Scott's effort.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said he was disappointed with Scott's plans to sue, terming the move “a frivolous waste of time and money.” He said Georgia made an offer to resolve the dispute more than a year ago, and Florida has yet to respond.

In a statement issued Aug. 13, Deal said: “It's absurd to waste taxpayers' money and prolong this process with a court battle when I've proposed a workable solution. Georgia has made significant progress on water conservation and has proposed an agreement that would meet the needs of both states.”

Deal said “it's ironic this comes at a time when Florida and Georgia are experiencing historically high rainfall. The fastest and best resolution is an agreement, not a lawsuit going into an election year.”

Deal also said “the merits of Georgia's arguments have consistently prevailed in federal court, and a victory in the U.S. Supreme Court would decide this issue in Georgia's favor once and for all.”

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