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USA - Florida and Georgia Face off Again in Long-Running Fight Over Water Rights

On Monday, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear Florida v. Georgia, round two.

At issue is whether the court will require Georgia to cap its water use in the Apalachicola River system and allow more water to flow downstream into Florida. Georgia says its water use is reasonable and insists that a cap would severely harm the Atlanta metropolitan area and the state’s agricultural industry. Florida says that Georgia is using far more than its fair share of the water, depleting flows into the Apalachicola Basin and wreaking havoc on Florida’s oyster fisheries.

Because the dispute is between two states, it falls under the Supreme Court’s original jurisdiction – meaning it has not been litigated in the lower courts. Critical to the case are reports by two different court-appointed special masters, as well as thorny questions of evidence and the addition of two new justices since the last time this case was before the court in 2018. Given the special master’s most recent report and the acting U.S. solicitor general’s recommendations, Florida faces a challenge to prove its case for an “equitable apportionment” decree.

Monday’s argument comes more than seven years after Florida originally submitted its leave to file a bill of complaint in 2013. The court appointed Special Master Ralph Lancaster to oversee the dispute in November 2014. Lancaster conducted a lengthy trial in 2016 and issued his report in February 2017, rejecting Florida’s argument that Georgia’s water consumption should be limited. He concluded that Florida had “not proven by clear and convincing evidence” that putting a cap on Georgia’s water consumption would improve flows during a drought. Further, because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams and reservoirs in this river system, was not a party to the case, he found that Florida could not receive the relief it requested.

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