TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida charged ahead Tuesday with a lawsuit against the state of Georgia that accuses its northern neighbor of consuming too much fresh water from a river system that serves three Southeastern states.
The legal action filed directly with the U.S. Supreme Court is an escalation in a legal dispute lasting more than two decades.
The lawsuit is not a surprise since Gov. Rick Scott announced in August that the state was preparing one.
But the legal measure asks the high court to take some dramatic steps, including capping Georgia’s overall water use at levels existing in 1992. Florida also wants a special master to enter a decree that would “equitably” divide the waters in the basin of the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers.
“The situation is dire and the need for relief immediate,” states Florida’s lawsuit, which maintains Georgia is on pace to double its current consumption levels by 2040.
Brian Robinson, a spokesman for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, blasted the lawsuit as “political theatre and nothing more.”
“The only ‘unmitigated consumption’ going on around here is Florida’s waste of our tax dollars on a frivolous lawsuit,” Robinson said. “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.”
Robinson said Georgia would defend its water rights “vigorously” before the court.
Robinson also repeated Deal’s assertion that Georgia offered a framework to end the dispute more than a year ago. The long-running dispute hinges over withdrawals from Lake Lanier, a federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River that provides water to metro Atlanta.
The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers merge to form the Apalachicola River, which flows to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2009, a federal judge ruled that metro Atlanta had little right to take water from Lake Lanier. He then ordered that metro Atlanta’s water withdrawals would be drastically restricted unless the three states reached a settlement.
Water officials in Atlanta say recent problems have more to do with drought.
But in its court filing, Florida contends that long-term climate data have not shown significant decreases in precipitation and that a lack of rain cannot be blamed for the decreases of fresh water in the river system.
“This court’s precedent makes clear Georgia may not store and consume the waters of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in unlimited quantity heedless of the impact on the Apalachicola region,” the lawsuit says.