Fla. Loses Water Rights Fight as Supreme Court Backs Ga.
Fla. claimed Ga. took too much water from the interstate rivers, impacting the Apalachicola River and Gulf oysters, but the court said other factors contributed.
WASHINGTON – In a unanimous decision Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed Florida’s claims in a years-long water rights fight against the state of Georgia. The high court ruled that Florida failed to provide “clear and convincing evidence” for its claims that water consumption from its northern neighbor led to the collapse of its oyster fisheries.
Florida filed the suit eight years ago, accusing Georgia of taking more than its fair share of water from interstate rivers in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. Attorneys for Florida’s government argued that the high rate of consumption caused low flows in the Apalachicola River and severely damaged oyster fisheries and river ecosystem.
Florida asked the court in February to order strict water limits for Georgia, especially in years of drought, so it can deliver more freshwater from the basin to the Apalachicola River.
Georgia officials countered that such restrictions would be “draconian” and cost its agricultural sector millions.
Thursday, the Supreme Court agreed with Georgia that such limits would be out of bounds and that the state can’t bear responsibility for the fisheries’ troubles.
“Florida’s own documents and witnesses reveal that Florida allowed unprecedented levels of oyster harvesting in the years leading to the collapse,” Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote in the 9-0 ruling. “And the record points to other potentially relevant factors, including actions of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, multiyear droughts, and changing rainfall patterns.”
Three years ago, the Supreme Court appointed New Mexico Circuit Judge Paul Joseph Kelly Jr. to investigate the case. He reported back in 2019 and advised against restrictions for Georgia’s water use, saying they would cost more than $100 million per year during times of drought.
The case was the first interstate water war in the eastern United States to be heard by the Supreme Court since 1931, when New Jersey won a bid to restrict New York’s water usage.
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