Florida blames Decatur Co. farmers for using all the water

Published 11:56 am Monday, October 14, 2013

The state of Florida announced it has plans to file a Supreme Court lawsuit against the state of Georgia on the basis that Georgia is consuming high volumes of water that are degrading Florida resources, such as the oysters in Apalachicola bay. While historically, Florida and other surrounding states have been alarmed at the water usage by the metro-Atlanta area, this time Florida is pointing to Georgia farmers who tap into the Floridan Aquifer, which is shrinking. Decatur County farmers currently use the aquifer for irrigation and Florida says they are taking too much.
The two states are not strangers to water disputes and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, a Republican, and Florida Governor Rick Scott, also Republican, have negotiated in good faith for the last several years.
Scott told reporters that Georgia has engaged in “unchecked consumption of water while not negotiating in good faith.” He admitted a lawsuit was the only way to settle the matter. The suit will be filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, skipping the legal dispute in lower courts first.
“The only ‘unmitigated consumption’ going on around here is Florida’s waste of our tax dollars on a frivolous lawsuit,” said Deal’s communications director, Brian Robinson. “Florida is receiving historically high water flows at the state line this year, but it needs a bogeyman to blame for its poor management of Apalachicola Bay.”
Deal’s statement went on to say Georgia conservation efforts have decreased Atlanta water consumption all while the population has grown substantially.
State Rep. for Decatur County, Jay Powell, and State Sen. Dean Burke said Georgia has done its due-diligence in water conservation and they will be able to prove that in court.
“I think that Georgia has made great strides in showing that it is a good steward of the natural resources it uses and that it is a good neighbor to its adjoining states in trying to make sure there is clean water flow — that it leaves the state just as clean as it entered the state,” Powell said. “I think that Florida is being unreasonable.”
As to the impact the lawsuit could have on the farmers, Powell said it gives the Decatur County agricultural industry “great uncertainty,” until the suit is resolved, where as the parties could have negotiated.
Sen. Burke said his biggest fear with the litigation is, “that some sort of mandatory curtailing of irrigation” would occur in times of drought.
There is a current moratorium on well usage that was implemented in Decatur County in 1999 to preserve the Floridan Aquifer. No farmers in Decatur County can dig new wells, but can dig further into existing wells.
Farmer Glenn Heard of Glenn Heard Farms in Colquitt and Brinson said the suit is shocking to him because it does place blame on Georgia farmers.
“When you hear about it, you just expect they are talking about Atlanta, but when you look into it, the suit is more directed at our agriculture here in Southwest Georgia,” Heard said. “The concern is we are all afraid of future restrictions on our existing wells, which we don’t have in place right now.”
While moratoriums are placed on building new wells, farmers are allowed to dig deeper into the ground, hitting the Claiborne Aquifer, but Heard said he doesn’t believe that has ever been done before. The aquifer is hundreds of feet deep, past the Floridan Aquifer.
Powell said he is concerned about the outcome of the case resulting in more restrictions, but said he along with other representatives will work to show the courts what the state has done by way of conservation.
“There has been an enormous amount of money invested and time into the conservation of water,” Powell said, and cited projects like the Strickland Research Park in Camilla run by the agricultural school at the University of Georgia, which calculates how much water it takes to really give crops what they need.
“We have done our due-diligence in working to conserve water,” Powell said.