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US Supreme Court to hear ‘water wars’ arguments
Lake Lanier

The Georgia-Florida-Alabama water wars lawsuit involving Lake Lanier is going before the U.S. Supreme Court in its current term, which lasts into summer 2018.

Tuesday morning the court issued an order noting that oral arguments would be heard this term, but didn’t give a specific date. The case is one of 19 the nation’s highest court will hear this term.

In February, Georgia won a major victory in the case when a “special master,” a lawyer appointed by the court to study the arguments in the case and make a recommendation, sided with the Peach State and said Florida had not proved that additional water-use restrictions in Georgia would materially benefit Florida residents.

Florida and Alabama are seeking to limit water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier and the upper Chattahoochee River watershed, as well as other rivers. The network of lakes and rivers flows from Georgia into Alabama and Florida.

Water flow from Lake Lanier is regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which built Buford Dam and formed the lake in 1956.

The lawsuit began in 1990, when Florida sued Georgia and the Army Corps. Lawsuits between the states are relatively rare and are significant by default.

“This one is important because the subject matter is water and who is entitled to use it,” said Clyde Morris, the attorney for the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association who was involved with the case for almost a decade, “and whether or not Florida can make a case that Georgia has unreasonably used the water that originates in the state of Georgia.”

Morris noted that the North Georgia end of the river basin “supports far more people and business and industry and commerce than the water in the system that flows into Florida.”

Florida filed its exceptions to special master Ralph Lancaster’s report in May. Since then, a slew of Georgia municipalities have filed amicus curiae briefs supporting the state’s defense against Florida and Alabama’s claims.

Supreme Court justices will hear arguments from both sides on whether Florida’s exceptions to the special master’s report are valid.

The case could have profound consequences for Georgia, as Florida seeks a hard cap on water consumption for Georgians on the grounds that cutting the flow of water into Florida is harming its environment and oyster industry, costing the state billions of dollars each year.

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