Florida-Georgia Water Dispute Continues

Feb 6, 2014

Buford Dam controls outflow from Lake Lanier into the Chatahoochee River. Lake Lanier provides water for the Atlanta Metro area.
Credit USACE

A long-simmering dispute over water continued this week as Georgia filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court opposing Florida’s request for a hearing.  But the feud is more complex than it may at first seem.

Only a week ago, Atlanta’s inability to cope with an unexpected snowstorm raised questions about the impact of urban sprawl.  But the city’s rapid growth is placing burdens on more than just roads.  Much of the water dispute’s rhetoric points to over-consumption by Atlanta’s growing population.  But University of Georgia law professor Peter Appel says the city’s demand for water is only part of the problem.

“With regard to Apalachicola Bay, Atlanta is a friendly target, but it’s not the real target.  The real target is irrigation in southern Georgia,” Appel said.

The Apalachicola Bay ecosystem relies on fresh water from the Apalachicola, Chatahoochee, and Flint rivers to support species such as the Eastern oyster.  In turn, the ecosystem supports Florida’s commercial oyster industry.  Florida claims Georgia’s increasing consumption of fresh water has undermined the area commercially and ecologically.

Appel says there is plenty of room for Atlanta to improve its use of water, but population growth isn’t the only thing depleting the river basin.  Florida will file a response to Georgia’s brief in opposition; the Supreme Court has not yet decided if or when it will hear the case.