By BRUCE RITCHIE
A court official has denied a motion by Georgia to dismiss a U. S. Supreme Court lawsuit by Florida seeking to cap Georgia’s water use.
Florida in 2013 asked the Supreme Court to intervene following the crash of the oyster population in Apalachicola Bay. Alabama, Florida and Georgia have battled in federal court over water from the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers since 1990.
Georgia had argued Florida couldn’t receive the relief it needs, including more water in the Apalachicola River, without the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers being included in the case. The federal agency operates five dams along the Chattahoochee River.
But Ralph I. Lancaster, the Supreme Court-appointed special master in the case, disagreed, saying that Georgia had not proven that a remedy is impossible without the federal government’s involvement. He also agreed with Florida that Alabama need not be involved in the case.
Georgia says more than 3.3 million people in the Atlanta area rely on water from the Chattahoochee River and the amount will increase to 6 million by 2040. Florida says placing a cap on Georgia’s water use means there will be more water available to flow downstream.
Lancaster accepted that argument with a warning in his written order, filed June 19.
“At trial, of course, Florida will have to carry its burden on this point,” he wrote. “While it is possible Florida will fail in making this showing, this possibility goes to the merits and does not mean than an adequate judgement is impossible absent the United States.”
He also said the Supreme Court has broad discretion in deciding water disputes among states. Therefore he said it would be improper to rely on Florida’s argument for limited court authority.
And he dismissed Georgia’s argument that Florida should seek more water from the Corps of Engineers as the federal agency goes through the process of updating its water control manuals for the system. Lancaster noted that Georgia previously had argued a decade ago in a case involving hydropower that Florida must seek more water from the Supreme Court.
Lancaster’s order means the case could continue on for years as Georgia and Florida gather and present evidence to bolster their cases. Lancaster has repeatedly urged both sides to negotiate towards a settlement and on March 3 he issued an order granting confidentiality in the case.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Tallahassee on June 9 to discuss the dispute. Deal met earlier in the year with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Lancaster has warned representatives of the states against speaking to the media. Spokespersons for the Georgia governor and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman declined to comment on the June 19 order.
(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com.)