Nov 032014

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in a water dispute between Florida and Georgia.

The court on Nov. 3 granted Florida's request to file a bill of complaint in its dispute with Georgia over the allocation of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin (Florida v. Georgia, No. 220142 ORG).

The United States had asked the court to deny the request, arguing that the Army Corps of Engineers should be given the opportunity to finish updating its master manual for the basin.

Florida was happy with the news. State attorney general Pam Bondi said, "We are pleased with the United States Supreme Court’s decision to grant Florida’s motion and to allow the lawsuit against Georgia to move forward. Georgia has delayed long enough, and this lawsuit is essential to protect Florida from the environmental and economic harms caused by Georgia’s overconsumption of water. We look forward to continuing our fight to protect Florida’s fair share of water in the United States Supreme Court."

Here are a few excerpts from the Solicitor General's brief, filed at the court's invitation:

"Permitting the Corps to complete its process for implementing the statutes it administers will provide the Court with relevant information about the hydrology of the Basin and the Corps’ view of how the federal projects should be operated to satisfy the various purposes for which they were authorized by Congress. It would be premature, before the Corps has completed its manual revision process, to decide in the abstract what effect should be given in an equitable apportionment action to the various federal statutory purposes or the Corps’ assessment of the appropriate manner in which to balance and accomplish those purposes."

"The update process, which is ongo­ing, will include a determination of whether and to what extent storage in Lake Lanier will be used to accommodate the present and future water supply needs of the Atlanta metropolitan area.  Id. at 139. The update will also set the minimum flow rates re­quired at Woodruff Dam to meet federal project pur­poses and the requirements of the Endangered Spe­cies Act of 1973, 16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.  The Corps expects to release a draft Master Manual and an envi­ronmental impact statement in September 2015, and it expects final approval and implementation of the Mas­ter Manual in March 2017. See U.S. Army Corps of Eng’rs, ACF Master Water Control Manual Update (last visited Sept. 17, 2014)."

"Florida alleges that the depletion of freshwater flows during drought years precipitated a collapse in the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay because of resultant rising salinity levels. Compl. paras. 6, 43, 54-56. Florida further alleges that reduced flows in the Apalachicola have resulted in the deaths of thousands of threatened and endangered mussels and rendered inaccessible the spawning habitat for the threatened Gulf sturgeon."

More links

  • News Service of Florida coverage
  • coverage (Excerpt: "Representatives of Apalachicola Riverkeeper and the Franklin County Seafood Workers Association say the Florida lawsuit has stifled the flow of information from Florida officials related to the bay and river system. A federal fisheries disaster was declared last year for Apalachicola bay oysters because of lack of fresh water, which increases oyster predators in the bay.")
  • Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia calls Florida lawsuit frivolous (press release, 10/1/13)
  • Earlier coverage on (when the court declined to review the matter, which also involves Alabama; 6/28/12)
  • ACF Stakeholders (from June 2012: "For the past 22 years, the ACF River Basin case has been tied up in the courts. The June 2012 decision by the U. S. Supreme Court to let stand the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimous ruling that water supply is an authorized purpose for Lake Lanier resolves a significant impediment to reaching an equitable and sustainable solution to the water conflict in the ACF Basin. As long as this unresolved legal issue existed, the parties to the conflict could hold out from entering meaningful discussions for the long term sustainability of the waters in the basin."