U.S. Supreme Court Remands Florida v. Georgia Interstate Water Fight Back to Special Master

Washington, DC—Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in the interstate water case Florida v. Georgia, remanding the case back to the special master stating that additional fact-finding and briefing of legal issues is necessary before the Court can issue a final decision.

Appointed by the Court to provide recommendations to resolve the longstanding water battle between Georgia and Florida, special master Ralph Lancaster had previously encouraged both states to return to the negotiation table to attempt to settle the dispute, before issuing a report last year finding that Florida had “failed to show that a consumption cap” on Georgia’s water use was necessary.

While Lancaster outlined in his recommendations that Georgia does bear some responsibility, he noted that the absence of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in this particular case made a favorable ruling for Florida more complicated. Given that the Corps controls the last dam in Georgia, where the Flint and the Chattahoochee Rivers come together at Lake Seminole before the river system passes over the Florida line, Lancaster found enforcing a cap on Georgia’s water usage would not necessarily mean that more water would flow into Florida as a result.

Florida objected to the special master’s conclusions, and both states presented oral argument to the high court in January, interpreted by some as an encouraging sign for Florida’s case. During the argument, the Justices’ line of questioning focused on the real challenges for Florida concerning the health of the Apalachicola river system, and whether putting a cap on Georgia’s water use would actually be a viable solution.

“Today’s decision illustrates just how complicated these interstate water battles can be, particularly when there are key decision-makers missing from the table,” said Gil Rogers, Director of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Georgia and Alabama offices. “By allowing for additional time to brief the issues, we hope this will provide an opportunity to forge a better, long-term solution for the river system overall.”

It unclear how today’s Supreme Court decision will impact other interstate litigation, as several ongoing cases involving the Corps’ water control manual for both the ACF River Basin and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River Basin continue to move forward.

“After more than 28 years of litigation with no end in sight, this battle is not going to be resolved by wasting more taxpayer dollars in various courtrooms,” said Rogers. “It’s clear that state leaders must come together on a resolution that factors in all stakeholders, by forming a multi-state compact or some kind of overarching entity, in order to fairly represent all sectors of water users in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, once and for all.”

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About Southern Environmental Law Center: For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org

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