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Florida objects to judge's finding in latest water wars development in Supreme Court
Lake Lanier

Update, April 14: Florida is stepping up the latest water wars battle against Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state filed a brief Monday, April 13, asking justices to reject a Dec.11 report by a special master who recommended that justices not grant Florida’s request for an equitable apportioning of waters in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier.

“The court should decline to adopt (U.S. Circuit Judge Paul J.) Kelly’s recommendation, hold that Florida is entitled to relief and order further proceedings,” Florida lawyers say in a 56-page filing that served as formal exceptions to Kelly’s report.

Among the state’s objections is that U.S. Circuit Judge Paul J. Kelly Jr. found that Florida "has not been injured by Georgia’s increasing consumption" of waters in the ACF.

“Georgia’s skyrocketing consumption has depleted flows Into the Apalachicola basin” and “reduced flows have devastated the Apalachicola basin,” Florida alleges.

While Lake Lanier serves as ACF headwaters, the Apalachicola River spills into the Gulf of Mexico, where Florida claims it has suffered economic and ecological harm.

In a Nov. 7 hearing in New Mexico before Kelly, Georgia's lead attorney spent much of his time picking apart data sets used by Florida and insisted that Georgia's water usage was far less than Florida's estimates. He said Florida failed to meet one of the case's central questions, which was laid out by the Supreme Court in a June 2018 ruling.

The court "cannot possibly find that the benefits substantially outweigh the cost to Georgia," said Craig Primis, Georgia's attorney.

In siding with Georgia, Kelly said, “The evidence has shown that Georgia’s water use is reasonable, and the evidence has not shown that the benefits of apportionment would substantially outweigh the potential harms.”

The Supreme Court will now decide whether to accept Kelly’s recommendation as the water battle is sure to linger into a fourth decade, as other lawsuits dating to 1990 have come and gone. The states have until June 12 to file other briefs related to Kelly’s order, according to the court’s docket.



Update, Feb. 7:  At Florida’s request, the U.S. Supreme Court has given Georgia and Florida more time to file briefs responding to a special master’s report ruling against Florida.

The states now have until April 13 to file any exceptions to the special master’s report and June 12 for other replies, according to the court’s docket.
Florida filed its request on Wednesday, Feb. 7.

Previous story: The stage appears set for water wars to drag into a fourth decade.

The U.S. Supreme Court is giving Georgia and Florida 45 days to file briefs responding to a Dec. 11 report issued by a special master who ruled against Florida.

The court’s notice is indicated on a docket listing proceedings and orders in the case dating to September 2013.

In the latest litigation, Florida has claimed it has suffered economic and ecological harm from Georgia’s “overconsumption of water” in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which straddles Georgia, Florida and Alabama and has Lake Lanier as its headwaters.

Florida is asking the court to freeze Georgia's water usage at current levels in the ACF to 2050 and approve even tighter controls during droughts. 

In his 81-page ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Paul J. Kelly Jr. recommended that the Supreme Court not grant Florida’s request for an equitable apportioning of waters in the ACF.

“The evidence has shown that Georgia’s water use is reasonable, and the evidence has not shown that the benefits of apportionment would substantially outweigh the potential harms,” Kelly said.

The Supreme Court will decide whether to accept Kelly’s recommendation.

The battle with Florida is the latest chapter in water litigation also involving Alabama that dates to 1990.

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