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Water wars rise: Florida to sue Georgia over condition of Apalachicola Bay

A day after the federal government declared that Florida's oyster harvesting region was a disaster area, Gov. Rick Scott announced the state will file a lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the excessive consumption of water that has harmed the ecosystem and economy of Apalachicola Bay.

The lawsuit, to be in the U.S. Supreme Court in September, challenges Georgia's "unchecked and growing consumption of water, which is threatening the economic future of Apalachicola,'' Scott said in a statement after a hearing on the controverial issue in Franklin County on Tuesday. Conducting the hearing was U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio.

"You have an entire industry that is on the verge of being extinct because of governmental inaction,'' Rubio said after the tour.

Scott noted that he and the Legislature put $4.7 million into the region to retrain workers hurt by the ailing economy. "Georgia has taken our water,'' he said after the tour. "We've had meetings. No progress has happened in those meetings." 

He called it "a bold, historic legal action for our state."

The lawsuit shifts the dispute that has been simmering between the states for 20 years from the negotiating table to the courtroom.

"This is our only way forward after 20 years of failed negotiations with Georgia,'' Scott said. "We must fight for the people of this region. The economic future of Apalachicola Bay and Northwest Florida is at stake.” 

Alabama, which is also part of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basins, has also sought relief from Georgia's consumption practices and has worked with Florida to resolve the issue for more than 20 years. They states have sued the Army Corps of Engineers for its water management practices, without success. 

An attempt to negotiate an equitable distribution of the waters that flow through the states fell apart in 2003 with the collapse of the ACF Compact in 2003. Since then, Georgia has staked a claim to the river waters for itself, considered a hostile action by Florida and Alabama.

The lawsuit will seek injunctive relief against Georgia’s "unmitigated and unsustainable upstream consumption of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint River Basins," Scott said.

Apalachicola River water levels are reduced by upstream withdrawals from the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers, especially apparent low-flow summer and fall seasons. The Chattahoochee River is the primary source of water for the Metro-Atlanta area, which withdraws an estimated 360 million gallons per day. , Georgia’s consumption is expected to nearly double to 705 million gallons per day by 2035 -- the approximate water volume of the entire Apalachicola Bay -- as Atlanta’s population and water consumption grows. 

The low water levels have led to the distruction of the region's famed oyster beds, as high salinity in the bay have led to increased disease and predator intrusion. Apalachicola Bay oysters account for 90 percent of Florida's oyster supply and 10 percent of the nation's oyster supply.

"Georgia is getting its piece first before we have a calculation,'' said Jon Steverson, director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District. "The good lord giveth and Georgia and the corps taketh away." 

Comments

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Bill Rawlins

As a metro Atlanta resident, I state firmly (as well as the Appeals Court judge who last ruled on the case) that giving people drinking water comes before oysters. And by the way, no-one has been watering their lawn this year, so baloney to any "wasting water" allegations. (We have had constant rain from May until now.) What if Florida had to give up people's drinking water in order to provide irrigation water for Georgia's Vidalia Onion crop? I guarantee you that Floridians would be ready to fight. Well, we are too.

Moses

Georgia has plenty of lakes that boaters, and swimmers can use for recreation. The marinas and boating activities need to be moved to another lake. The water belongs to Georgia and Alabama, like it always has before Georgia started building dams and staking a claim on someone else's water supply. Florida and Alabama fisheries are at stake.

Megan

This article claims that Apalachicola Bay is about 705 million gallons. It is actually 430 BILLION gallons according to the EPA (http://www.epa.gov/ged/docs/EcoCondEstuariesGOM_print.pdf, see dimensions in Appendix II).

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