Supreme Court to Hear Water Wars Case

Nov 4, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Florida's lawsuit seeking to limit the amount of water its neighbor Georgia can take from a shared river system.

Apalachicola Bay, Florida
Credit Wikimedia Commons

The court's decision Monday to hear the case was applauded by Florida officials, and marked a new chapter in the decades-long regional battle over rights to take water from the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint river system.

Florida argues that Georgia is guzzling more than its share of water to slake the thirst of growing Atlanta at the expense of the Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery, which relies on fresh river water mixing with the salty sea to thrive.

In 2013, Florida Gov. Rick Scott appealed to the Supreme Court after the oyster industry nearly collapsed, causing a federal disaster declaration.

"For 20 years, Florida has tried to work with Georgia, and families have continued to see their fisheries suffer from the lack of water," the governor said in a press release. "We are fighting for the future of this region, and we won't quit until these resources are restored."

The legal battle over the river system's water, which is also shared by Alabama, hit a crucial point in 2009, when a federal judge ruled that the city of Atlanta had little right to take water from Lake Lanier, a federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River.

But in 2011 the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, and instead ordered the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to figure out how to allocate the water. The Corps operates dams that control water flows in the river system.

The Corps has said it will take years of study before a new plan can be devised — time Florida's oystermen said they do not have as they watch their catch disappearing.

So Florida decided to seek Supreme Court review to speed things along — a move opposed by Georgia.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Monday while on the campaign trail that the Corps is already working on a solution for sharing the water.

"The Corps must continue on the (river systems') manual update and not get bogged down by Florida's litigation," Deal said of the Supreme Court's decision.

"The Corps' lawyers have emphasized the need to proceed in their filings to the court, and we will take every necessary step to ensure that the Corps is able to do its job."