By BRUCE RITCHIE
The U. S. Supreme Court on Monday allowed Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia over water use to move forward, at least long enough for Georgia to file a response.
Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been battling in federal court over water from the Apalachiciola-Chattahoochee Flint River system. A year ago, Florida Gov. Rick Scott asked the Supreme Court to step in and decide on a water allocation among the states.
Florida said Georgia’s water use had harmed the environment and economy of the Apalachicola River region in Florida. Georgia responded that Florida was seeking to bypass the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is updating its manuals for operating its Chattahoochee River dams that control water flowing into Florida.
The Supreme Court on Monday granted Florida’s motion to file a complaint and provided Georgia with 30 days to answer. There was no comment by the court on issues raised in briefs filed by the two states and the U. S. solicitor general.
Scott on Monday called the decision a “major victory” for Florida.
“For 20 years, Florida has tried to work with Georgia, and families have continued to see their fisheries suffer from the lack of water,” he said in a news release. “The Supreme Court takes up so few cases, and their willingness to hear Florida’s demonstrates the merits of our case before the Court. We are fighting for the future of this region, and we won’t quit until these resources are restored.”
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “Georgia has delayed long enough, and this lawsuit is essential to protect Florida from the environmental and economic harms caused by Georgia’s overconsumption of water.”
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the Supreme Court decision was not unexpected.
Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. wrote in a brief filed in September that Florida’s claim falls within the court’s jurisdiction but he also said it is premature because of the Corps of Engineers manual update. Verrilli also said the court should tell Florida to file its claim after the update or accept the claim but delay the case until after the update.
Deal said he was encouraged the solicitor general felt that Florida’s action was premature.
“The Corps must continue on the ACF manual update and not get bogged down by Florida’s litigation,” Deal said in a statement. “The Corps’ lawyers have emphasized the need to proceed in their filings to the court, and we will take every necessary steps to ensure that the Corps is able to do its job.”
Representatives of Apalachicola Riverkeeper and the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association say the Florida lawsuit has stifled the flow of information from Florida officials related to the bay and river system. A federal fisheries disaster was declared last year for Apalachicola bay oysters because of lack of fresh water, which increases oyster predators in the bay.
“The fact is the litigation is going to take so long and it is going to prevent so many good things from happening in the bay,” said Dan Tonsmeire of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper group.
(Editors note: This report is part of a continuing coverage focus and long-term reporting project on water issues affecting Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Photo and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not copy, publish or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com).