We often hear about water wars in the western part of the country, but recent events related to a lawsuit brought by the state of Florida against the state of Georgia highlights the issue’s relevance to other parts of the country.
In 2013, Florida sued Georgia for its use of water coming from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, alleging that Georgia’s high usage levels during a drought devastated the oyster industry in the Apalachicola Bay. The river basin is the primary source of drinking water for the metro Atlanta area (estimated at 70% of the population), and it also helps sustain agriculture, manufacturing, power production, commercial fishing and recreation. However, with such a strain on the river basin, less fresh water makes it to the bay, keeping the water too salty for oysters.
Through this lawsuit, Florida hopes to cap Georgia’s water use at the current level until 2050. Furthermore, the state hopes that the courts will agree to reduce Georgia’s water level during years of drought, force Atlanta and farmers south of the city to enforce conservation standards and to adhere to established irrigation practices.
The first time the case was before the courts, it was dismissed over a technicality, but in January 2018, the case was brought in front of the court once again. After five months, it was decided that the matter should be handled by a “special master,” or expert judge, for consideration. Earlier this month, the lawyers for both states presented oral arguments to the special master, Paul Kelly of New Mexico. One of the primary points for consideration is that limits to Georgia’s water usage won’t necessarily resolve Florida’s issue. Additionally, Georgia’s lawyers argue that “the harm that would be caused to Georgia’s farmers and economy outweigh the benefits to Florida.”
In the next step of the ongoing battle, Judge Paul Kelly will present his thoughts and recommendations in a report that will go to the Supreme Court justices for evaluation.
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