There is a new development in the continuing conflict between Florida and Georgia over the water-sharing arrangements involving the Chattahoochee, Flint, and Apalachicola Rivers. A U.S. Supreme Court-appointed special master has ordered the parties to participate in settlement discussions following a lengthy trial at the end of last year. Special Master Ralph Lancaster directed the states to meet for mediation by January 24 and to submit a memorandum to him by January 26 on the progress of settlement discussions.
Florida’s latest lawsuit filed in 2013 accused Georgia of hogging water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers to the economic and ecological detriment of the downstream Apalachicola River basin. Florida seeks a reliable amount of water from Georgia as well as a cap on metro Atlanta’s and/or southwest Georgia’s consumption of water. Florida claims that reduced water levels and resulting increased salinity in Apalachicola Bay have significantly damaged the oyster population and pose threats to mussels and other species.
Interested parties believe that a compromise can be reached here with the creation of a compact that monitors and advances water-saving measures across the basin. At the heart of the dispute are two issues: how much water flows from Georgia into Florida, and should Georgia cap the amount of water it consumes. To date, Georgia has appeared unwilling, at least publicly, to address caps and consumption issues.
Ever present water disputes between states are increasing in light of growing water scarcity concerns as well as quality and quantity challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) is seeing more of these original jurisdiction cases as conflicts arise between states over water rights and interstate compact interpretations. At least five cases appear to be pending before SCOTUS at this time involving not only Florida and Georgia but also Montana, Wyoming, Texas, New Mexico, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Colorado.