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Georgia denies Florida's allegations in water wars lawsuit
Lancaster Ralph large
Ralph I. Lancaster

Georgia denies that Florida’s Apalachicola region is “suffering serious harm” because of Georgia’s increasing storage and consumption of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint river basins, according to a document filed in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Georgia has filed its response to Florida’s petition to equally divide waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, which includes Lake Lanier and also straddles part of Alabama.

In its Nov. 3 complaint, Florida alleged “large and ever-increasing amounts of water” have been consumed for government, industrial, recreational and agricultural uses permitted by Georgia.

“These uses are forcing Floridians to shoulder the heavy burden of Georgia’s growth,” Florida has charged.

In its response, filed Jan. 8, Georgia fires back: “Those allegations are inconsistent with (Florida) Gov. (Rick) Scott’s representation to the Department of Commerce that the collapse was caused by drought conditions and illegal overharvesting.

“Florida should therefore be (prevented) from arguing that Georgia’s ... water use caused a decline in oyster populations in the Apalachicola Bay.”

Florida’s challenge represents the latest chapter in ongoing “water wars” between Alabama, Florida and Georgia over water uses in the basin. Lake Lanier has long been the focal point of the dispute, as it serves as the main drinking water source for much of metro Atlanta.

The litigation between Florida and Georgia has been put on a strict schedule with Ralph I. Lancaster, a lawyer from Portland, Maine, serving as special master.

Appointed by the Supreme Court, Lancaster is authorized to set the time and conditions for the filing of additional pleadings, direct the proceedings, summon witnesses and issue subpoenas.

And set them he did, including a suggestion to Georgia to file its answer by Jan. 8 instead of Feb. 2.

“Every effort should be made to complete each activity in advance of the prescribed deadline,” Lancaster said in a Dec. 19 letter to lawyers.

“I am grateful to Georgia for that early filing, and I again suggest that all counsel keep that directive in mind.”

Beginning March 6, Georgia and Florida must file a “progress report” with Lancaster on the first Friday of each month.

Lancaster urged the lawyers to keep meeting, conferring and working “collaboratively and cooperatively” and to “aggressively explore settlement possibilities.”

Finally, he cautioned lawyers to “use restraint in correspondence with or discussions with the media.”

“My long-term experience with them is that they will take things out of context, and you’ll be trying to explain them for the rest of your lives,” Lancaster said.

In an email last week, Lauren Kane, spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, said in declining comment, “We are going to follow his advice.”

Likewise, Whitney Ray, spokesman for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, said, “As this litigation is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment at this time.”

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