Today's lake level: 1070.25
Your complete online news, information, and recreation guide to Lake Lanier
Aug. 22, 2019
11:28 pm


Special Master in water lawsuit expects answers now

By Jane Harrison
Special Master Paul J. Kelly, Jr. expected straightforward answers from Georgia and Florida by the end of January to help resolve a long running lawsuit over water use. In a November mandate, he ordered states to dive into evidence already on the record to submit brief responses to his specific questions about injuries Florida claims to have suffered from Georgia water use, how potential infiltration of salt water from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects may have exacerbated the oyster fishery collapse, and how much water would restrictions on Georgia water consumption send down to Florida.
Kelly, the second special master appointed by the Supreme Court in the 2013 lawsuit, halted evidence-gathering shortly after he took the helm last August. Both states piled on more than 7.2 million pages of documents in the lawsuit in which Florida seeks to limit Georgia water use and get reparation for alleged harm in Apalachicola Bay. The Sunshine State claims Georgia hoards water on the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, choking the oyster fisheries and environment downstream on the Apalachicola.
Lake Lanier advocates take special interest in the legal wrangling that can directly affect the lake on which they live, play and generate income. Lanier, the major water source for metro-Atlanta, is the northernmost and largest reservoir on the river system that runs from the northeast Georgia mountains into the Florida Panhandle. Local and state officials responded with near glee when former Special Master Ralph Lancaster denied Florida’s claims and recommended the Supreme Court do the same. However, in a 5-4 decision last summer, justices remanded the case for further consideration.

Lancaster, who presided over more than two years of evidence gathering and an evidentiary hearing, was replaced by Kelly. The U.S. appellate judge from Santa Fe known for his quick, direct approach declined Florida’s plea to submit more evidence and ordered specific answers based on what’s already on the record.
Some of the questions he wanted each state to answer in 20 pages or less include:
1.) To what extent was Florida harmed by Georgia water use? 
2.) To what extent was salinity in Apalachicola Bay caused by Corps projects such as the Sikes Cut through St. George Island, dams, and deepening channels and draining swamp areas? 
3.) Does Georgia agriculture sap too much water from the Flint River? If so, how much is “too much?” 
4.) How much additional water would flow into Florida from a cap on Georgia use? 
5.) To what extent have Georgia conservation efforts increased water flow into the river system? 
6.) What cost would Georgia incur if a water cap is imposed and would these costs be justified by the benefits to Florida?
He wants specifics, “the more the better,” in numbers and dollars. He allowed states to supplement their 20 pages of “findings and conclusions” with 40 pages of supporting documents.
After reviewing the responses, states have until Feb. 28 to send another potential set of responses, also limited to 20 pages.

Posted online 2/1/19
Copyright © 2011 Lakeside News. Internet Marketing Company: Full Media (CS)