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Sep. 21, 2017
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Court grants Florida extension to file exceptions to water war ruling

By Jane Harrison
 
The gavel that dropped in a federal court appointee’s ruling was not the final sounding in water war litigation en route to Supreme Court justices. The court last month granted Florida extra time to dispute a report by Special Master Ralph Lancaster that denied its claims against Georgia.
 
Florida’s 2013 lawsuit alleges Georgia hoards water on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system and caused environmental and ecological harm downstream. Florida’s legal maneuver focused solely on Georgia’s water use, not the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the flow of water from five federal dams. Lake Lanier is the largest Corps reservoir on the river system that stretches from the northeast Georgia mountains to Apalachicola Bay.
 
After two years of evidence gathering and a month-long trial, the Special Master ruled that Florida could not prove that limiting Georgia’s water use would increase flow into the Sunshine State. He indicated that regardless of what Georgia does upstream, the Corps controls the volume of flow.
 
The Corps last month began implementing a new ACF water control manual that grants Georgia all the water it requested. Florida’s failure to target the Corps in its 2013 lawsuit hurt its strategy and resulted in Lancaster denying Florida’s pleas.
 
Florida asked for and got an extension to file its objections to the report. The state’s beefs and supporting legal briefs, originally due last month, must now be filed by May 31. The next round of sur-replies from Georgia is due by July 31. Florida has until Aug. 30 to rebut the Peach State’s responses.
 
The legal case has cost each state upward of $40 million, including the comparatively small pittance paid to the Special Master. Both states split the $481,257 compensation to Lancaster. Georgia paid 40 full-time attorneys during the discovery period to heap up millions of pages and computer files of evidence. Ga. Gov. Nathan Deal dipped into a special governor’s emergency fund to help finance Georgia’s defense.
 
Florida river advocates have mourned their state’s investment into the lawsuit instead of paying to shore up the infrastructure of oyster fisheries around Apalachicola Bay.

Posted online 5/1/17
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