Georgia scored a critical court victory in the latest round of its lengthy water war with Florida.
Florida sued Georgia four years ago in a dispute that has seen decades of previous litigation. Florida claimed that Georgia “diverts too much water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system and that the diversions have damaged Apalachicola Bay and Franklin County’s seafood industry,” according to the Miami Herald. Florida says Georgia’s water use should be capped.
A trial began on October 31 of last year, and a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court oversaw the proceedings.
Ralph Lancaster, the special master, revealed his conclusions on Tuesday, deciding that Florida had not proved its case. “Because Florida has not met its burden, I recommend that the court deny Florida’s request for relief,” he wrote his report, per the Herald.
Lancaster’s recommendations now head to the Supreme Court. “Lancaster’s finding is not final, as the high court can reject his recommendation or take another route. Congress could ultimately weigh in, and further lawsuits can’t be ruled out either,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.
A focal point of Lancaster’s conclusions: The fact that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was not a part of Florida’s lawsuit.
“In his ruling, Lancaster suggested that Florida made a serious tactical error by not including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a party to the lawsuit,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Lancaster wrote, per the Herald: “The evidence presented at trial suggests that the Corps’ reservoir operations are a significant, and perhaps the primary, factor influencing the amount of streamflow crossing the state line during times of drought and low flows,” Lancaster wrote.
Georgia officials celebrated the interim win. Georgia Governor Nathan Deal said in a statement, per the Journal-Constitution: “Georgia remains committed to the conservation efforts that make us amicable stewards of our water. We are encouraged by this outcome which puts us closer to finding a resolution to a decades-long dispute over the use and management of the waters of the basin.”
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Image credit: "Chattahoochee River," martin bravenboer © 2010, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/