On October 1, Florida sued the state of Georgia over water rights to the Apalachicola river. This lawsuit continues the two-decade-long “tri-state water wars” involving Georgia, Florida, and Alabama over water rights to the Apalachicola River and its tributaries. However, this action marks a significant escalation of the conflict, as this is the first time in the water feud that one state has directly sued another state involved in the conflict; previously, the lawsuits have been aimed at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for managing the reservoirs and dams shared and disputed by all three states. At this point, Alabama has not joined in this most recent lawsuit, nor has the state commented on any further action that they may take.
Florida filed the lawsuit because it claims that Georgia is hogging the water supply from the Apalachicola River and its tributaries, threatening their state’s oyster population and the economy based on harvesting these oysters. In the lawsuit, Florida claims that the metro Atlanta region is using an excessive amount of fresh water, and is only set to increase its water consumption in the future. This, the state claims, has decreased the amount of freshwater that has emptied in the bay, causing the salinity of the Apalachicola Bay to spike and resulting in the near collapse of the oyster industry.
While the lawsuit is not a surprise – Florida Governor Rick Scott announced in August that the state was preparing a suit – it does seek for the U.S. Supreme Court to take some dramatic steps. The state wants a special master to enter a decree to “equitably” divide the waters in the disputed rivers, and is seeking for the the Supreme Court to cap Georgia’s water consumption to 1992 levels.
According to Governor Scott, “Georgia has refused to fairly share the waters that flow between our two states, so to stop Georgia’s unmitigated consumption of water we have brought the matter before the U.S. Supreme Court”.
Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, vehemently refuted these claims, stating that “the only ‘unmitigated consumption’ going on around here is Florida’s waste of our tax dollars on a frivolous lawsuit. Florida is receiving historically high water flows at the state line this year, but it needs a bogeyman to blame for its poor management of Apalachicola Bay.” Robinson further chalked this lawsuit up to
“political theater and nothing more”.
When news of this lawsuit first broke in August, Governor Deal expressed great disappointment over the waste of taxpayer funds that would result from this lawsuit, particularly since Georgia offered a framework for a comprehensive agreement after almost two years of negotiations in good faith. Florida never responded to this proposal. According to Governor Deal, “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.”
Despite expressing disappointment over Florida’s decision to sue, the Governor’s office reiterated that Georgia has consistently won in the courts. The Supreme Court has ruled on this water feud once before in June 2012, ruling in Georgia’s favor. While Governor Deal argues that a lawsuit is not the best way to resolve this issue, he also stated, “On the flip side, 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.”