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Jan. 24 deadline set for Georgia, Florida to settle water wars dispute

A Jan. 24 deadline has been set for Georgia and Florida to try again to settle a U.S. Supreme Court dispute over water consumption in a basin the two states share.

“The parties shall meet and confer … with the services of a mediator, if at all possible, in a good faith effort to reach a framework for settlement,” said Ralph I. Lancaster in a one-page order Tuesday.

The Maine lawyer was tapped by the Supreme Court to preside over the latest legal battle in what has been a protracted “water wars” between Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

Lancaster said the states need to submit a confidential memorandum to him by Jan. 26 “setting forth a summary of the parties’ settlement efforts.”

“The parties should consider solutions that could alleviate both parties’ concerns, including importation of water from outside the ACF River Basin to supplement streamflow during drought periods,” Lancaster said.

In a trial that wrapped up this fall, Florida has alleged Georgia has “overconsumed” water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier in the headwaters.

His ruling, which could come early this year, would be a recommendation to the Supreme Court, which would have the final say.

Citing another case before the court, Lancaster said in his order that justices prefer states to work out their differences “by mutual accommodation and agreement.”

A ruling in the case could bring an end to legal wrangling between the states that’s been going on for more than two decades.

Adding spice to the latest dispute is that North Georgia is going through a year of drought that saw Lanier’s water levels drop a dozen feet below full pool.

In December, the Army Corps of Engineers released its manual describing water operations in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier in the headwaters.

The first definitive such document in more than half a century, the manual reflects favorably for Georgia by basically agreeing to the state’s requests for water withdrawals.