Georgia takes Florida to task repeatedly in a 126-page document asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reject the Sunshine State’s water “overconsumption” claims against Georgia.
“Florida has brought its case against the wrong party, in the wrong court and at the wrong time,” states the document.
Florida filed a lawsuit Oct. 1 against Georgia, drawing out what has been a 20-year water-sharing conflict between Georgia, Alabama and Florida, often referred to as “water wars.” Much of the debate has focused on Lake Lanier, which serves as the main drinking water source for metro Atlanta.
Georgia’s response, filed last week, states that Florida’s allegations about water consumption by Georgia “are not only flawed but also mischaracterize the source documents on which they rely.”
In particular, Florida relies on an affidavit submitted by Judson Turner, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division director, supporting Georgia’s revised 2013 water supply request to the Army Corps of Engineers as supposedly establishing that metro Atlanta withdraws 360 million gallons per day from the Chattahoochee River.
“But Florida neglects to mention that the same affidavit establishes that roughly 70 percent of this water is returned to the Chattahoochee and is available for downstream uses,” according to the response.
Likewise, Florida’s claims based on Georgia’s projected future use “are incomplete and misleading,” states the response.
Florida notes Georgia has requested the corps make available storage in Lake Lanier sufficient to support 705 million gallons per day of total withdrawals for the metro Atlanta region by 2040.
But Turner’s affidavit explains that Georgia expects to return 78 percent of the withdrawals back to the river if the corps grants Georgia’s request.
“To be sure, severe droughts will reduce the flow of water available to Florida,” states Georgia’s response. “But those natural droughts reduce Georgia’s access to water as well, and nothing in Florida’s complaint suggests that Georgia consumes more than its fair share of water during these droughts.”
Georgia notes the corps is working on a master water control manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin, which straddles Georgia, Florida and Alabama and includes Lake Lanier at its northern end.
“In completing that process, the corps, exercising statutory authority delegated by Congress, will consider, among other things, effects on endangered and threatened species,” the response states.
“Florida, however, is not content to await the outcome of the corps’ deliberative process. Instead, it seeks to bypass that entire proceeding by asking this court to engage in a common-law ‘equitable apportionment’ of the states’ rights to those waters.”
The water-sharing dispute between the two states — also involving Alabama and the corps — dates to 1990.
Florida and Alabama appeared to gain the upper hand in July 2009, when U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson of Minnesota, who had been assigned to handle the litigation, issued a strict ruling against Georgia.
He imposed a three-year deadline for Georgia to either find another source of water, have Congress reauthorize Lake Lanier as a specially designated source of drinking water or successfully negotiate a water-sharing agreement with Florida and Alabama.
Georgia successfully appealed the decision in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, then gained further leverage in June 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal of the 11th Circuit ruling by Florida and Alabama.
Then, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida announced in August he was going to sue Georgia. The announcement followed a U.S. Senate field hearing where lawmakers heard about the impact that drought and reduced water flows had on Apalachicola Bay.
“This lawsuit will be targeted toward one thing — fighting for the future of Apalachicola,” Scott said at the time.
Later, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s spokesman, Brian Robinson, said in response to the suit: “The only ‘unmitigated consumption’ going on around here is Florida’s waste of our tax dollars on a frivolous lawsuit.
“Florida is receiving historically high water flows at the state line this year, but it needs a bogeyman to blame for its poor management of Apalachicola Bay.”
The acrimony has spilled over into efforts by a neutral, private group, the ACF Stakeholders, to develop a scientific-based water-sharing plan of its own.
Florida and Alabama rejected a tri-state pact that would have bound them to confidentiality concerning the results of the study.
The stakeholders group, comprising people interested in water flows through the ACF basin, cited concerns about information leaks “until we release it as part of an overall plan,” said James N. McClatchey, chairman of the ACF Stakeholders’ governing board.
Still, “I think there was a strong, maybe almost unshakable, commitment that we were going to get to a sustainable water management plan, and that’s still the objective, I think, of the whole group.”