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Diving into Georgia’s SCOTUS water war victory

Published: Apr. 2, 2021 at 4:33 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Florida contends its upstream neighbor is soaking up more than its fair share of the water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which flows from the Atlanta suburbs to the Gulf of Mexico. Florida claims overconsumption by its neighbor to the south is decimating Florida’s oyster industry.

After nearly eight years in the courts, the basin battle boiled over this week when the Supreme Court dismissed Florida’s case.

“I’m very pleased the decision was rendered in Georgia’s favor; the water wars have gone on far too long,” said Georgia Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.).

Florida Rep. Al Lawson (D-Al.) provided Gray DC this statement:

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision has failed the State of Florida and our efforts to protect our ecosystem, access to water and natural resources. The ruling is disappointing and does not take into account the livelihood of the thousands of Floridians who rely on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. Georgia farmers’ reckless use much of our shared resources — leaving insufficient freshwater for oysters in the Apalachicola Bay. This has resulted in a struggling oyster industry that went from being an economic driver for the city to largely declining in its annual harvest.”

Office of U.S. Rep. Al Lawson | 5th Congressional District, Florida

In a 12-page decision, Justice Amy Coney Barrett said Florida was not able to prove its case. However, she didn’t exactly let Georgia off the hook.

“On the one hand she told Florida, ‘you didn’t prove that Georgia was actually injuring you,” said environmental law expert and Georgetown University Professor Hope Babcock. “At the same time, she was saying to Georgia, ‘don’t take this as you are free to use as much water as you want.’”

Babcock says cases involving competing state interests are often complex and can last a very long time.

“Should the United State sovereign be boxing the ears of one sovereign vs another sovereign?” said Babcock. “They don’t like to do that.”

This likely isn’t the end of the southeastern water war, though. As other cases float around the lower court, Professor Babcock quotes Mark Twain.

“‘Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting,’” she said. “I don’t think water wars are ever really over.”

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