U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear Florida’s case in tri-state water dispute

Jun 25, 2012

The following article article was published in The Florida Current on June 25, 2012:

U.S. Supreme Court Refuses to Hear Florida’s Case in Tri-State Water Dispute

By Bruce Ritchie


The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to take up an appeal filed by Florida in the case involving the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

The decision not to hear Florida’s request to review an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling could harm the Apalachicola River and bay, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said Monday.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been fighting in federal court over water since 1990. Alabama and Georgia want water for industry and growing cities, while Florida wants water for fish and wildlife along the Apalachicola River and to support the seafood industry in Apalachicola Bay.

Lake Lanier, a federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River in north Georgia, has been the focus of the dispute because it provides 60 percent of the storage capacity among the reservoirs on the river system.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson in 2009 ruled that Congress must authorize Lake Lanier to provide water to Georgia cities. Without authorization, he ordered that water use be cut off in three years.

But the 11th Circuit overturned the decision and instead directed the Corps of Engineers to analyze its authority related to the Lake Lanier. 

Florida and Alabama in February asked the Supreme Court to review the case. The Supreme Court denied the petition on Monday without comment.

“The department is concerned that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals decision could result in unbalanced management of the reservoir system, diverting more water from Lake Lanier for local municipal purposes, and depriving Florida of the water flows needed to support the ecology and economy of the River and Bay,” Florida DEP said in a statement. “This could allow further disruption of the biological productivity and unique ecosystem of the river and bay and adversely affect endangered species and the bay’s hallmark oyster production.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the Supreme Court had affirmed that drinking water always was an authorized use of Lake Lanier.

“We can now move forward with this issue behind us, have the governors work together and come to a long-term agreement that will provide for the water needs of all three states,” Deal said in a news release.

The environmental group Apalachicola Riverkeeper said it was disappointed by the decision. Dan Tonsmeire, the group’s executive director, said the states now can either focus on sharing water throughout the river basin, as the ACF Stakeholders group has suggested, or begin a new round of litigation.

“I think the most sane thing is to try to sit down and use the best available science and see what we can work out,” he said. “I hold out some optimism we will achieve that overall look at how water can be managed in the whole ACF basin.”

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