Florida to file lawsuit in U.S. SC to stop Georgia's 'unchecked' water consumption

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Aug 15, 2013

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott said this week the state will file a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court over Georgia's water consumption.

Scott, joined by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, said Tuesday the state would file its suit in the nation's high court in September.

He argues that the neighboring state's "unchecked" and "growing consumption of water" is threatening the economic future of the city of Apalachicola.

"This lawsuit will be targeted toward one thing -- fighting for the future of Apalachicola," Scott said in a statement. "This is a bold, historic legal action for our state. But this is our only way forward after 20 years of failed negotiations with Georgia.

"We must fight for the people of this region. The economic future of Apalachicola Bay and Northwest Florida is at stake."

Over the past 20 years, Florida and Alabama each have sought relief from harms caused by reduced flows and increased Georgia consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint, or ACF, River Basins through legal challenges to the Army Corps of Engineers' water management practices, but without success.

This time, Florida proposes to address the problem at its source -- an original action filed with the Supreme Court seeking injunctive relief against Georgia's "unmitigated and unsustainable" upstream consumption of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint River Basins.

Scott explained that after years of attempting to negotiate an equitable apportionment of the waters that flow through the states, the collapse of the ACF Compact in 2003 left his state and Alabama in the same disadvantaged position.

Meanwhile, Georgia had improved its standing at the expense of its neighbors by staking increased claims to the river waters for itself, he said.

Apalachicola River water levels are directly impacted by upstream withdrawals from the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers at all times -- especially apparent during low-flow summer and fall seasons. The Metro-Atlanta area primarily gets its water from the Chattahoochee River, with withdrawals totaling 360 million gallons per day.

Georgia's consumption is expected to nearly double to 705 million gallons per day by 2035, as Atlanta's population and water consumption grows unchecked, Scott said. That estimated daily consumption represents the approximate water volume of the entire Apalachicola Bay.

Scott said historically low water levels brought about by Georgia's excessive consumption have caused oysters to die because of higher salinity in the bay and increased disease and predator intrusion.

Oysters in the bay account for 90 percent of Florida's oyster supply and 10 percent of the nation's oyster supply, he noted.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said this week she's on board with the lawsuit.

"This lawsuit is our last and best chance to save Apalachicola and the surrounding region from the devastation caused by Georgia's overconsumption of water," she said in a statement.

"I look forward to fighting for our state in the U.S. Supreme Court."

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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