Georgia has secured a monumental win in the long-running water wars with Florida.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously for Georgia on Thursday, April 1, in rejecting Florida’s claim that Georgia uses too much of the water that flows from the Atlanta suburbs to the Gulf of Mexico. Florida said that its neighbor’s overconsumption is to blame for the decimation of the state’s oyster industry.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the court that Florida failed to prove its case.
“Considering the record as a whole, Florida has not shown that it is ‘highly probable’ that Georgia’s alleged overconsumption played more than a trivial role in the collapse of Florida’s oyster fisheries,” Barrett wrote.
“The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision is a resounding victory for Georgia and a vindication of years-long effort by multiple governors and attorneys general here in the Peach State to protect our citizens’ water rights,'' Gov. Brian Kemp said in a statement.
“Our state will continue to wisely manage water resources and prioritize conservation, while also protecting Georgia’s economy and access to water.”
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said the decision “affirmed what we have long known to be true: Georgia’s water use has been fair and reasonable. We will continue to be good stewards of our water resources, and we are proud to have obtained a positive resolution to this years-long dispute on behalf of all Georgians.”
Clyde Morris, who represents the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association, said, “While one can never be completely sure in advance about how a court is going to rule, the equities in this case so vastly favored Georgia and Florida’s evidence of causation was so unconvincing that the outcome has long seemed clear.
“While none of us is happy about the demise of the Apalachicola oyster beds, the court’s ruling validates Georgia’s long-held position that it was not the cause.”
Morris added that “while there is still ongoing litigation about management of the ACF Basin, at least we can finally lay to rest the interstate battle over equitable apportionment of the water flowing through it.”
The ACF, or the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, straddles Georgia, Florida and Alabama, with Lake Lanier in the headwaters.
Kit Dunlap, president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said the ruling “is good, positive news for Georgia.”
Dunlap, who has been a member of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District since its founding in 2003, added, “We celebrate the decision, but cycles of drought will still persist and we’ve got to continue our efforts in water conservation, not only for metro Atlanta but downstream too.”
State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, described the ruling as a “welcome, early Easter present this year. The hard work of our legal experts and many gubernatorial administrations deserves more credit than I can give in a statement. This is a vindication that our water use has been — as it will continue to be — fair, reasonable and prudent. This is a bright day for Georgia’s agriculture, our economy and for the rule of law.”
U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens, whose district includes Lake Lanier, also weighed in on the issue.
“I was pleased to learn of the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in favor of Georgia on this long-standing water dispute,” he said in a statement. “Georgians are — and will continue to be — good stewards of our states’ water resources, and I’m glad the court affirmed this in its ruling.”
The reaction in Florida was not as favorable, with Georgia Ackerman of Apalachicola Riverkeepers saying the “decision was disheartening.”
Weesam Khoury, spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said Thursday evening that while Florida officials are disappointed, Florida’s Office of General Counsel “is in the process of thoroughly reviewing today’s decision.”
“The decision does emphasize that Georgia has an obligation to make reasonable use of ACF basin waters in order to help conserve that increasingly scarce resource, and we will be evaluating all available options to ensure Georgia fulfills this obligation.”
Georgia Ackerman of Apalachicola Riverkeepers called the decision “disheartening.”
“The justices offered no resolution for the equitable sharing of the water of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee river system. River flow is the lifeblood of the swamps, streams, and estuary of the Apalachicola River and Bay ecosystem. Upstream water management and flow regulation have failed to address downstream realities.
“Fundamental changes in water management and flow regulation policies, along with strong water conservation programs throughout the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin are urgently needed. This includes drought planning. The water of the ACF basin can and must be shared fairly.”
The Associated Press also contributed.