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Sep. 20, 2020
12:49 am


States await court’s decision to hear water wars case

By Jane Harrison
Florida pleads for Apalachicola’s survival. Georgia stands firm on prior success. Such were the final replies and sur-replies as the two states await the Supreme Court’s next move in a long-standing water dispute that Justices are expected to soon consider whether to drop or grant another day in court.
As of late August, the 2013 Fla. V. Ga. lawsuit did not appear on the court’s argument calendar for October and was not listed under its “Granted & Noted List” for oral argument during the Oct. term which continues through April 2021.
Florida’s last request was for justices to grant them another chance to argue for allocation of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River System, which they claim is necessary to save the oyster-based economy and ecology of Apalachicola Bay. “In the end, denying Florida relief not only would spell doom for Apalachicola,” Florida attorneys claim.
Georgia, bolstered by a special master’s report that its water use is reasonable and necessary, stood its ground, claiming that Florida failed to prove its case.
Florida filed suit in 2013 alleging that Georgia hoarded water upstream on the ACF and caused the collapse of oyster fisheries in Apalachicola Bay. Early on, stakeholders around Lake Lanier, the largest ACF reservoir and the region’s major water supplier, worried if the water war’s outcome might draw down the lake, a major economic engine run by real estate sales, recreation, and industry that rely on adequate lake level. But, Florida’s latter strategy targeted Georgia agriculture, which saps the Flint River to water crops. Georgia farms extract more water than all other entities combined.
The initial special master recommended the court drop the case due to insufficient proof that capping Georgia’s water use would significantly remedy Florida’s woes. The court remanded the recommendation after oral arguments in Jan. 2018 and assigned a second special master. Judge Paul J. Kelly, Jr. accepted states’ briefs and allowed a 90-minute oral argument before recommending the court deny Florida’s claims. 
In his January 2020 report, Kelly deemed Georgia’s water consumption reasonable, noted Georgia’s conservation efforts and contrasted Georgia’s larger economy and population with the tiny region at stake on the gulf. Since then, both states have submitted replies and sur-replies supporting their arguments.
The high court’s October argument calendar slates 10 cases for hearing, including several rescheduled from April. One, Texas v. New Mexico, also involves a long-running water dispute. Six argument days appear on the Nov. calendar. The court lists five for December.
As Florida and Georgia awaited Justices’ call, the Sunshine State banned wild oyster harvest in Apalachicola Bay possibly through 2025. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission temporarily suspended all harvest of wild oysters from the bay and prohibited on-the-water possession of wild oyster harvesting equipment (tongs) through Dec. 31, 2025, or until 300 bags per acre of adult oysters can be found on a significant number of reefs. The commission expects to decide in October if the ban will last through Dec. 31, 2025.
The oyster harvesting ban comes long after Georgia witnesses pointed a finger at Florida’s fishery management, which they allege allowed over-fishing in the fragile bay that needs freshwater flow to sustain oyster population.

Posted online 8/28/20
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