In the News
Deborah Buckhalter, Jackson County Floridan
Republican Congressman Dr. Neal Dunn (District 2-Florida) attended Monday’s oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the Florida-Georgia “water wars.” Lawyers for each state spoke the hearing, and Dunn said the meeting was packed with stakeholders from both sides of the Florida-Georgia border.
He spoke with the Floridan moments after leaving the morning proceeding and said he felt good about the way things went.
“The general sense in the room was that the Supreme Court feels that common sense is on the side of Florida,” Dunn said. “The Court reserved its sharpest objections and questions for Georgia’s counsel, which Georgia didn’t answer particularly well. ”
It will be several months, he thinks, before the jurists decide what to do. Monday’s session was the last of the public hearings on the matter. It now rests with the jurists.
Dan Tonsmeire, of the Apalachicola Riverkeepers, was at the hearing Monday and concurred with Dunn's optimistic take on the session. " It seemed to me that the Justices were trying to find a way that they could get Florida more water, some relief," Tonsmeire said. The questions that they asked of the Corps and Georgia were not really answered. They were wanting to know why, using a common sense approach, the Corps couldn't assist in getting more water downstream if Georgia would adopt some conservation methods that reduced water usage up there. They never answered that, really. They just went back to talking about authorizes uses and formulas and processes that never were on point with the question."
The decades-long dispute over water usage on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system wound up in the Supreme Court after Florida Gov. Rick Scott sued Georgia over its water usage rate. Georgia heavily taps the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers before they get downstream and flow together to form the Apalachicola River. Florida argues that Georgia over-taps the Chattahoochee River in places like busy metropolitan Atlanta. This, Florida says, amounts to robbing the Apalachicola of its lifeblood.
Georgia should be required to remedy that situation by enacting measures which reduce that state’s tap on the resource, Florida argues.
The Supreme Court could order a special master to work out an equitable apportionment of the water resources that contribute to the basin. That’s Florida’s hope, Dunn said. Florida objects to that Corps management plan and argues that that the Supreme Court can and should intervene. The Court earlier appointed a special master to attempt to resolve the dispute in an earlier stage of this long-running feud. However, th at individual had indicated he felt he could not order the Corps to do anything related to the issues of the lawsuit, since Florida sued only the state of Georgia, not the Corps.
That wouldn't prevent the Court from sending him back to the table, however.
Or the panel could instead let stand the Corps of Engineer’s management plan which now controls the major upstream water sources which form the Apalachicola River.
There are other options for the court, as well.
Dunn said one major failure of the Corps, in making decisions about how much water Georgia can draw from the Chattahoochee River, is that it’s controlling plan has no provisions which take into account the ecology of the basin downstream in Florida. Leaving out such a critical component could have far-reaching impacts for stakeholders and wildlife downstream, critics argue. Apalachicola’s oysters and other fisheries in the basin are dependent on balances that could be irreversibly upset if freshwater flow decisions continue to be made without regard to their wellbeing, say Dunn and many others with their eyes on Florida’s interests.