The U.S. Supreme Court placed a longtime water battle between Florida and Georgia on its “Granted and Noted List” for oral argument in the current term; however, the Dec. 10 document does not set a showdown date. The term extends through April 2021.
The court in October agreed to allow Florida another chance to plead for court allocation of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. Lake Lanier, the largest reservoir on the rivers, does not appear to be the target of the lawsuit that blames Georgia for the collapse of the oyster-based economy and ecology in Apalachicola Bay. Early case watchers around the north Georgia lake feared the 2013 legal action threatened metro-Atlanta’s main water source and the region’s economic engine. However, Florida eventually focused on Georgia farmers along the Flint River whose water use exceeds that of all other consumers combined.
The court in December decided a longstanding water dispute between Texas and New Mexico that originated with a disagreement about a river master’s apportionment of water after a 2014 tropical storm. The southwestern case, which centers on the amount of water that evaporated while being stored in New Mexico to prevent flooding in Texas, illustrates the complexity of water issues confronting many states.
The southeastern battle has its own complexities, including the Army Corps of Engineers’ management of five ACF reservoirs, Georgia’s larger economy dependent on ACF water for growth, and Apalachicola’s plea for survival. Florida claims the oyster-fishing way of life will die out without court action. The Sunshine State has imposed a moratorium on wild oyster harvesting through 2025 to restore and create oyster habitat.
In seven years, two special masters have recommended justices deny Florida’s claims that Georgia hoards more than its share of water and causes problems downstream. The court in 2018 remanded the case for further consideration and gave Florida another opportunity. Last December, the second special master also recommended the court drop the case, stating that Georgia’s cost of cutting water use would be greater than the potential benefits to Florida.