Water Wars: Expert urges Supreme Court to throw out Florida’s case against Georgia

The Gist: The expert appointed by the Supreme Court to make recommendations in the Water Wars case betwen Georgia and Florida has ruled in Georgia’s favor and recommends the high court throw out Florida’s case.

Background Information: The water wars have been raging for 30 years. At issue is the flow of water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, which is a shared resource between the two states. Florida contends that Georgia uses more than its fair share of water and is fighting for a cap on Georgia’s water use from the basin. Florida officials believe the cap would allow more water to flow downstream to Florida.

Georgia contends the state is not using more than its fair share of water and that a cap on water consumption would not translate to a significant increase in water to Florida.

Last year, the Supreme Court heard a report from then Special Master judge in charge of the Water Wars Case Ralph Lancaster Jr. The court found fault with several aspects of the Lancaster report and ordered the special master to re-evaluate some of the findings and look deeper into the issues.

New Special Master, New Ruling: Today’s ruling comes from Special Master Paul Kelly. In it he says the case should be dismissed because Florida “has not proved the elements necessary to obtain relief.”

The report continues, “Florida has pointed to harm in the oyster fishery collapse, but I do not find that Georgia caused that harm by clear and convincing evidence. Next, although Georgia’s use of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers has increased since the 1970s, Georgia’s use is not unreasonable or inequitable. Last, I have determined that the benefits of an apportionment would not substantially outweigh the harm that might result. This is especially true given that the Army Corps’ reservoir operations on the Chattahoochee River would prevent most streamflow increases from reaching Florida during the times when more streamflow is needed to alleviate Florida’s alleged harms.”

What does Georgia’s Governor have to say?: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp expressed appreciation for the ruling in a statement released Thursday. “We greatly appreciate Special Master Kelly’s recognition of Georgia’s strong, evidence-based case in this litigation,” Kemp said. “We will continue to be good stewards of water resources in every corner of our state, and we hope that this issue will reach a final conclusion soon.”

What’s Next?: Kelly’s ruling isn’t a decisive victory for Georgia. His findings will go back to the Supreme Court. The court could decide to dismiss the case, send it back for more information, or decide to rule on the case.

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