Florida and Georgia taking water fight to Supreme Court

APALACHICOLA, Fla. (AP) — Reminders of the oyster’s pre-eminence in this slice of northwestern Florida are everywhere, from the shells that line the edges of downtown buildings to the paintings of oysters that dot the walls of Apalachicola’s art and history museum.

It’s the oysters themselves that are harder to find these days, and Florida is hoping the Supreme Court can help fix that. The high court hears arguments Monday in the long-running dispute between Florida and neighboring Georgia over the flow of water in the Apalachicola River, which runs from the state line to Apalachicola Bay and the nearby Gulf of Mexico.

Florida sued Georgia in the Supreme Court in 2013, blaming farmers and booming metro Atlanta for low river flows that harmed the environment and fisheries dependent on fresh water entering the area. Florida portrays the case as its last chance to “stem Georgia’s inequitable consumption” of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia, leaving too little by the time the rivers come together and pass into Florida.

“It is effectively strangling the Apalachicola Region and killing or threatening its animal and plant life,” Florida said in its Supreme Court brief. Although the justices usually hear appeals, lawsuits between states start in the Supreme Court.

Georgia said Florida has failed to show that it would benefit from any cuts imposed on Georgia, pointing to the conclusion of a court-appointed special master who recommended that the justices side with Georgia. Georgia also said Florida is asking for unreasonable reductions that would “threaten the water supply of 5 million people in metropolitan Atlanta and risk crippling a multibillion-dollar agricultural sector in southwest Georgia.”

Complicating the issue is the absence from the lawsuit of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages dams on the Chattahoochee River.

The agency has enough control over the flow of water that there might not be any increase in the water that reaches Florida even if the court were to cap Georgia’s use of water from the Flint River, special master Ralph Lancaster found. The Corps could decide to store more water in its Chattahoochee reservoirs and cancel out any increases from the Flint River, Lancaster found.

The states’ battle over water use dates back to 1990, and includes drawn-out negotiations and several lawsuits. Alabama, which has the Chattahoochee on its eastern border, is not part of the current lawsuit.

For the tiny historic town of…

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