Judge urges Georgia, Florida to work out water dispute ahead of ruling

The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) basin flows from northeast Georgia through Atlanta and along the border of Alabama, finally emptying into Florida's Apalachicola Bay. How the water is allocated before it reaches the bay is the subject of legal proceedings between Florida and Georgia. (© iStock)

Closing out a month-long trial in the latest chapter of the water dispute between Georgia and Florida, special master Ralph Lancaster imparted some words of advice to both states: work it out.  

Appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to provide a recommendation to resolve the 27-year legal battle over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin (Florida filed suit in 2013, charging that Georgia’s overuse of water has had adverse impacts on its lucrative oyster industry), Lancaster suggested that returning to the negotiating table ahead of his ruling would be in the states’ best interest.

“Finally, please settle this blasted thing,” Lancaster said in court. “I can guarantee at least one of you will be unhappy with my recommendation and, perhaps, both of you. You can’t both be winners. But you can both be losers.”

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Florida attorneys have criticized Georgia’s conservation and farming practices and want to see a cap on the state’s water use, while Georgia Governor Nathan Deal recently defended his state’s conservation efforts and warned that a legally-mandated cap could have devastating impacts on south Georgia’s agricultural industry.

Attorneys on both sides will file closing briefs in the next few weeks before Lancaster issues a ruling, which may happen before the end of 2016. The state attorneys will then have an opportunity to weigh in on Lancaster’s recommendation before the U.S. Supreme Court issues a final decision next year.

While not directly involved in the case, SELC continues to keep close tabs on this long-running dispute to ensure the final outcome protects water quality and quantity.

Read more trial coverage from the Associated Press: “Georgia-Florida Water Fight Now in Hands of Special Master".

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