Special Master recommendation favors Georgia in water suit
On Dec. 11, Special Master Paul Kelly Jr. recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court deny Florida’s request for relief in the suit it filed against Georgia in 2013.
Florida accused Georgia of overusing water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin, allegedly causing harm to the oyster industry on Florida’s Gulf Coast. Florida asked the court to cap Georgia’s water use.
Kelly’s recommendation was the second in Georgia’s favor. The initial special master, the late Ralph Lancaster, recommended in February 2017 that the court dismiss Florida’s complaint, in part because to achieve sufficient relief the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would have to be a party in the suit, since the Corps controls water flows on all three rivers.
In June 2018, the court found that Lancaster had misapplied the rules in equitable apportionment cases and sent the case back with specific questions to be settled: 1) Whether Florida suffered harm caused by decreased water flow into the Apalachicola River; 2) whether Florida showed that Georgia’s use of the Flint River is inequitable; 3) whether Georgia’s potential inequitable water use harmed Florida; 4) whether capping Georgia’s use would “materially increase” streamflow in the Apalachicola River and 5) whether the potential increased streamflow would reduce economic and ecological harm Florida has suffered.
Kelly heard additional oral arguments on Nov. 7.
Kelly concluded that the evidence favored Georgia, noting that it “has not showed harm to Florida caused by Georgia; the evidence has shown that Georgia’s water use is reasonable; and the evidence has not shown that the benefits of apportionment would substantially outweigh the potential harms.”
Georgia Farm Bureau, which filed a friend of the court brief in the case, applauded Kelly’s recommendation.
“Georgia Farm Bureau is pleased that Special Master Paul Kelly’s recommendation acknowledges the water conservation practices Georgia’s agriculture community has followed for many years,” GFB President Gerald Long said. “We appreciate that Judge Kelly recognized Georgia farmers are good stewards of the water God has given them and that they are using it efficiently as they grow crops to help feed and clothe the world.”
The case now returns to the Supreme Court, which again has the option of accepting or rejecting the recommendation.