Environment

Georgia Scores An Incremental — But Important — Victory In Long-Running Water Wars

Florida claims that Georgia uses too much of the water from the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, but a representative of the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday recommended the justices deny Florida’s request to limit Georgia’s water use.
Florida claims that Georgia uses too much of the water from the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, but a representative of the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday recommended the justices deny Florida’s request to limit Georgia’s water use.
Credit David Goldman / Associated Press

Georgia has scored a victory – though not a final one – in its decades-long fight with Florida over water. A representative of the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday recommended the justices deny Florida’s request to limit Georgia’s water use.

In his report, Judge Paul Kelly wrote that while Florida has pointed to harms that it’s suffered, the state has not proven that Georgia is responsible.

Florida claims that Georgia uses too much of the water from the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, which meet on the border between the states to form Florida’s Apalachicola River. Florida says the lack of water has harmed the environment, the oysters, and the people whose livelihoods depend on the oysters. In 2013, Florida filed suit in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Florida has pointed to harm in the oyster fishery collapse,  but  I do not find that Georgia caused that harm by clear and convincing evidence,” Kelly wrote. “Although Georgia’s use of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers has increased since the 1970s, Georgia’s use is not unreasonable or inequitable. Last, I have determined that the benefits of an apportionment would not substantially outweigh the harm that might result.”

This is the second time a court-appointed special master has sided with Georgia in this case. In 2017, a previous special master also recommended denying Florida’s request. After hearing arguments in early 2018, the justices decided not to follow that guidance and instead asked for more information.

“We greatly appreciate Special Master Kelly’s recognition of Georgia’s strong, evidence-based case in this litigation,” Governor Brian Kemp said in a statement. “We will continue to be good stewards of water resources in every corner of our state, and we hope that this issue will reach a final conclusion soon.”

The Supreme Court justices will consider this special master’s report and again have the option to go along with his recommendation or reach a different judgment.

Even if this case is resolved soon, there are still other ongoing cases concerning the rivers shared by the states of Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

This story will be updated.