In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Georgia’s favor April 1 in the lawsuit Florida filed over the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers.
Florida filed the suit in 2013, claiming Georgia overuses water from the two rivers that feed into the Apalachicola River in Florida before emptying into the Apalachicola Bay, where a large portion of Florida’s oyster production occurs.
Florida first blamed Metro Atlanta, which draws water from the Chattahoochee-fed Lake Lanier, and then blamed farmers for using water from the Flint River. Florida asked the court to place severe water use restrictions on Georgia.
Florida claimed Georgia’s water use lowered water flows, causing increased water salinity that damaged its oyster industry. Georgia maintained overharvesting caused Florida’s oyster decline.
“Georgia Farm Bureau is pleased with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Georgia’s favor. Farmers in Southwest Georgia and their communities could have been devastated by the severe restrictions Florida proposed,” GFB President Tom McCall said. “The state of Georgia and Georgia farmers have implemented numerous water conservation measures that minimize the amount of water Georgia farmers use to grow their crops. We think the Supreme Court recognized this with its ruling.”
Special Master Ralph Lancaster, who initially tried the case, recommended the court deny Florida’s petition, partly because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the water flow in all three rivers, was not a party to the case.
The Supreme Court sent the case back to a second special master, Paul Kelly, and he, too, recommended Florida’s request be denied. Kelly said Florida had failed to prove its case.
“The Supreme Court’s unanimous decision is a resounding victory for Georgia and a vindication of years-long effort by multiple [Georgia] governors and attorneys general to protect our water rights,” Gov. Brian Kemp said. “Our state will continue to wisely manage water resources and prioritize conservation.”
Georgia Farm Bureau supported Georgia’s position in the case.
“Georgia Farm Bureau has worked tirelessly for decades to ensure Georgia farmers maintain access to the water required to clothe and feed America and the world. This ruling is an example of the advocacy work Farm Bureau does for farmers and why it’s important that Georgia’s agriculture community support our organization by being a member,” McCall said. “We continue to support Georgia’s farmers as they practice responsible water use and constantly pursue improvements in water-use efficiency.”