Florida Acquires another Chance to Make Case in 'Water War'Top Stories

June 28, 2018 06:08
Florida Acquires another Chance to Make Case in 'Water War'

(Image source from: Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a victory for Florida, ruled Wednesday that the nation's third-largest state should be given another opportunity to prove its case that overconsumption of water in Georgia is damaging the Apalachicola River system.

The 5-4 decision, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, overturned a 2017 advice by a court-appointed special master that found Florida had not proven its case "by clear and convincing evidence" that imposing a cap on Georgia's water use would benefit Florida water systems, including oyster-rich Apalachicola Bay in Franklin County.

Breyer said the special master had "applied too strict a standard" in rejecting Florida’s claim. "To require 'clear and convincing evidence' about the workability of a water decree before the court or a special master has a view about likely harms and likely amelioration is, at least in this case, to put the cart before the

The prompt outcome of the decision is to send the case back to Ralph Lancaster, a Maine lawyer who was appointed as a special master by the Supreme Court to oversee the dispute.

Florida filed the lawsuit in 2013, although the case is only the latest iteration of a decades-old battle about the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, which starts in Georgia and flows south to Florida.

Among the key questions, Lancaster will have to settle is whether an "equity-based cap" on Georgia's water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system would increase the water flow into the Apalachicola River and whether the amount of that extra water would "significantly redress the economic and ecological harm that Florida has suffered," Breyer wrote.

The special master could also seek further findings on his preliminary rulings that Florida had suffered harm from the overconsumption of water by Georgia. And the future deliberations will have to weigh Georgia's claims that any limits on its water use would undermine its economy, including the growth of the Atlanta area and the state's agriculture industry in southwestern Georgia.

Breyer's opinion was supported by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor.

By Sowmya Sangam

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