News Feature | December 5, 2016

Florida, Georgia ‘Water War' Trial Concludes With Overseer Pleading For Resolution

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The so-called “water war” trial over whether Florida and Georgia are sharing water fairly wrapped up at a court in Maine last week, and now both sides are waiting to hear what happens next.

“Ralph Lancaster Jr., the special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the intractable interstate dispute, will now determine whether Atlanta will get by on less water or southwest Georgia farmers will irrigate fewer acres of cotton and peanuts. Or he may simply decide that Florida didn’t prove its case,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Lancaster implored Georgia and Florida, which have been at loggerheads for decades over the water issue, to negotiate a workable deal.

“Finally, please settle this blasted thing,” he said in court. “I can guarantee at least one of you will be unhappy with my recommendation and, perhaps, both of you. You can’t both be winners. But you can both be losers.”

Lancaster said he will issue a ruling soon, potentially before Christmas, after which the Supreme Court will review his decision. The trial began October 31 in a Maine bankruptcy court following “nearly three decades” of previous litigation, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. “The most basic thing to know about this case is that Florida says Georgia uses too much water, and it calls out Atlanta, which gets most of its water from the Chattahoochee River,” NPR reported.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal jumped into the fray last week as the trial neared conclusion. He defended his state’s water conservation efforts and warned about the implications of court-imposed water reductions, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“The governor’s comments were even more surprising given the court’s admonition to Georgia and Florida negotiators to keep confidential their talks aimed at resolving the 27-year-old legal battle between the states,” the report said.

Lancaster, “who was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court as a special master to resolve the water war, appeared taken aback when he asked the lawyers, scientists, environmentalists and others gathered in a bankruptcy court about Deal,” the report said.

As Lancaster put it: “Do you know what he’s talking about? Just curious.”

During the trial, Florida lawyers criticized Georgia’s conservation and farming practices, the report said. Florida wants to see a cap on Georgia water use.

“The stakes are huge for Georgia: A consumption cap could sharply curtail metro Atlanta’s future development. And southwest Georgia farmers might lose some access to the underground aquifers that water their corn, cotton and peanuts,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“But Florida, which sued Georgia three years ago claiming upstream hoarding of rivers and aquifers about killed its oyster industry, bears a heavy legal burden. It was not clear during five weeks of trial whether the Sunshine State succeeded in denting Georgia’s defense that Florida’s troubles were either self-inflicted or due to Mother Nature,” it continued.

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