Supreme Court wades into water war

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A fight between three states – one that spans hundreds of miles and nearly three decades -- spills into America’s highest court. Monday, the nine justices of the Supreme court waded into the decades-long water war between Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

Florida’s attorneys argue Georgia’s thirst for water – for public drinking, energy, agriculture -- leaves those downstream high and dry during droughts. They want a cap on how much water Georgia can siphon out of two rivers that ultimately merge into the Apalachicola.

A court administrator did find Georgia’s practices harm the Sunshine state, especially its oyster industry. But, the administrator ruled against Florida for failing to prove the cap would work, and it’s up to the justices to determine whether that issue needs to be re-examined.

Seven of the nine justices asked questions during the hearing, those questions seemed to tilt in Florida’s favor.

Attorneys declined to comment citing a gag order in the case.

During the hearing, Georgia’s lawyers argued capping use in their state won’t help Florida during droughts – because more water won’t be released from dams.

While the state of Alabama has an interest in the case – it is not a party to it.

Earlier this year, Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) floated a resolution to change how the Army Corps of Engineers controls water in the basin. But, he said he sees that as a backup option, hoping the drawn-out court process will finally provide the result he wants. “I would love to wrap it up this year,” he said, “I would love to take a victory lap around the Capitol.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) writes,
“Georgia has been working in good faith for years to resolve these disputes, and our state remains focused on continued conservation efforts to ensure that we are good stewards of the water resources in these river basins. Senator Isakson continues to stand ready to assist in Congress with any future resolution the governors achieve, and he remains supportive of the Army Corps in managing the basins for its many users.”

A spokesperson for Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said simply, “our team is monitoring the case closely.”

If Florida does win at the Supreme Court, it wouldn’t be a final victory, but kick-off a new round of studies, hearings, and court proceedings. The Supreme Court justices will make their decision in this case by early-July at the latest.

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