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Georgia gets allies in water wars legal fight
Gainesville, other cities, counties file brief arguing against water use cap sought by Florida

A deluge of counties and cities on Monday joined in the war for water among Georgia and Florida that centers on Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River basin.

Gainesville joined with the Atlanta Regional Commission, Forsyth, Gwinnett, DeKalb and Fulton counties and the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority in filing an amicus brief on Monday with the U.S. Supreme Court. It argues that Florida had not proved that tighter water-use restrictions on Georgians would benefit Florida residents.

Half of Atlanta’s water supply comes from the Chattahoochee River, which feeds into Lake Lanier through the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin.

Florida is aiming for a cap on water consumption in Georgia, arguing that the resource is overused in the Peach State on its way to Florida and that the state’s environment and oyster industry in the Gulf of Mexico are being damaged.

That argument was dealt a blow in February when a special master appointed by the Supreme Court, Maine lawyer Ralph Lancaster Jr., issued a 70-page opinion in Georgia’s favor.

Florida has failed to show that a consumption cap will afford adequate relief,” Lancaster wrote.

Florida opposes Lancaster’s conclusions and continues to argue that Georgia’s water use is causing serious harm to residents and industries in Apalachicola Bay.

The brief filed on Monday by Gainesville and other municipalities and organizations in Georgia supports Lancaster’s decision.

“Florida challenged two basic water uses in this case: municipal and industrial water use in Metropolitan Atlanta and agricultural water use in Southwest Georgia,” the brief states. “In neither region would the damage inflicted on Georgia be remotely justified by the benefits of a consumption cap.”

It’s estimated such a consumption cap would cost Georgia’s economy billions of dollars.

Lancaster has repeatedly recommended the states settle the issue out of court given the potential costs and the real costs of arguing the case in court. But neither side has shown a willingness to back down, especially not Georgia, which since February has been enjoying the upper hand in the courts.

The Supreme Court isn’t bound by Lancaster’s decision. Congress also could still take action to change how the Army Corps of Engineers regulates water flow from the Buford Dam at the south end of Lake Lanier.

A major defense of Georgia’s case has been the state’s water conservation programs, which have reduced water use by more than 35 percent in metro Atlanta since they took effect.