Georgia wins Water War with unanimous SCOTUS decision

Published 9:25 am Wednesday, April 7, 2021

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The Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision on Thursday in regards to the ongoing dispute between Florida and Georgia over Georgia farmer’s usage of water, ruling in favor of the Peach State. According to the Court, it was determined that Florida “has not provided clear and convincing evidence that the collapse of its oyster fisheries was caused by Georgia’s overconsumption.”

The Post Searchlight last wrote about this in February, when SCOTUS first heard the case. To summarize, Florida argued that Georgia’s use of water from bodies of water like the Flint and Lake Seminole was excessive, and was negatively affecting the Apalachicola River, specifically the oyster harvest in Apalachicola Bay. They sought remedy in a 50% cut of Georgia’s agricultural water usage, particularly during drought years. The case was first heard back in 2013, with Georgia expected to win, though Florida was given a chance to try the case again. Other factors have also been attributed to the decline of Apalachicola Bay’s oysters, including overharvesting by local oystermen and mismanagement of the habitat by Florida governing bodies.

Mark Masters, director of the Water Planning and Policy Center at Albany State University, testified to the Court on this case. “I was really nervous, the stakes were incredibly high for Georgia agriculture, just because of what Florida was asking for.” Bainbridge local Tommy Dollar, owner of Dollar Farm Products, followed the case, and was understandably pleased with the results. “We’re just utilizing a resource, but we’re good conservationists of that resource.”

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Despite Georgia’s victory, both Masters and Dollar felt that this wouldn’t give Georgia the ability to completely remove restrictions on drilling new wells. “I say it on a daily basis, no I don’t think we’re going to open up all the permits… We’ve about maxed out what we need to,” Dollar said.

According to Masters, despite being the biggest threat to Georgia ag, there are still other cases involving water usage, these involving Alabama and various environmental groups. While Florida targeted Georgia farmers, these cases deal with the Army Corps of Engineers and their operation of reservoirs on the Chattahoochee. The Post-Searchlight will look into these and provide updates as they progress.