Georgia and Florida appear headed for a “water wars” showdown in the U.S. Supreme Court, and while just when is not known, an actual date for arguments is closer to being set.
A notation Monday, Oct. 5, on the online docket for the longstanding litigation between the two states says that the case is “set for oral argument in due course.”
“With this note, we expect to be scheduled for an oral argument, but we don’t have a clear indication as to when the court will set it,” said Katie Byrd, spokeswoman for the Georgia attorney general’s office, on Tuesday, Oct. 6.
Clyde Morris, a lawyer who represents the Lake Lanier Association, said the case is one of eight listed in the October term awaiting an argument date, but “it’s the last case on the list.”
“I presume argument will be set … during this term,” he said.
The term ends in June 2021, with April 28 as the last day scheduled for arguments and decisions in all cases issued by June 30, Morris said.
“So, my guess is that argument will probably be around April 28 and a decision issued near the end of June,” he said.
The issue at stake is water sharing between Georgia and Florida in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier in the headwaters.
Florida is alleging “overconsumption” of water in the basin. The Apalachicola River spills into the Gulf of Mexico, where Florida claims it has suffered economic and ecological harm.
“Denying Florida relief not only would spell doom for Apalachicola, it would set the bar so high for an equitable apportionment that it would effectively invite states to raid water as it passes through their borders,” Florida lawyers said in a brief filed July 27 in the Supreme Court.
Florida’s plea to the court is in response to U.S. Circuit Judge Paul J. Kelly’s recommendation in December 2019 that justices not grant Florida’s request for an “equitable apportioning” of waters in the basin.
Georgia, meanwhile, wants the court to accept Kelly’s recommendation. Georgia said in a June court filing, “After more than six years of litigation, it is now clear that Florida’s case was built on rhetoric and not on facts.”
The state contends that while it accounts for more than 90% of the population, employment and “economic output” in the basin, the state’s total water consumption is 2.4% of “state line” flows in wet years and 6.1% in dry years, its lawyers say.