Florida Gets A Second Shot In Ongoing 'Water War' With Georgia

Jun 27, 2018

A shrimp boat heads out into the Apalachicola Bay. Such boats used to be a fixture in Apalachicola but their use has declined in recent years.
Credit Jason Tereska / WFSU News

The people and businesses that depend on the Apalachicola Bay just got a break from the U.S. Supreme Court—keeping a long running lawsuit over water use alive.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a series of rulings Wednesday but there’s one that’s got Florida National Wildlife Federation spokeswoman Tanya Galloni excited.

“I think the main ruling is making sure the special master doesn’t have too strict a way of looking at this issue and that the special master be flexible in looking at how water should be apportioned.”   

Water apportionment, or sharing, has driven a 30 year fight between Florida, Georgia and Alabama. The three states have been sparring over water use in the shared Apalachicola-Flint-Chattahoochee River System. There have been attempts at negotiations and settlements, but none of really worked. And so Florida took Georgia to court.

The Supreme Court sent the case to what’s called a special master. But he ruled last year that Florida’s case should be dismissed, saying the state didn’t prove damage to the Apalachicola Bay could be addressed by a court ruling.

Former Apalachicola Bay Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmiere says, "the way I approach those kind of statements is, ‘prove that it won’t, versus making us prove that it will.”

Tonsmiere and other environmentalists disagreed with the special master’s original decision and  the High Court says the special master applied too strict a standard in his recommendation for dismissal.

Florida argues Georgia is withholding too much water upstream which has damaged the Apalachicola Bay, downstream leading to both economic and ecological harm. The area was recently hit by a wildfire that burned three dozen homes, some owned by the same fishermen who farm the bay and who’ve struggled in recent years. 

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Original story: North Florida’s Apalachicola Bay and the people who depend on it for a living scored a victory Wednesday in a long-running fight over water use.

The U.S. Supreme Court is sending the issue back to a special master for further consideration after he ruled last year Florida didn't prove damage to the bay could be reversed by increasing water flows.

Florida, Georgia and Alabama have fought over water use in the Apalachicola-Flint-Chattahoochee River systems for about 25 years. Florida has accused Georgia of using too much water upstream, harming the Apalachicola Bay downstream.

“Florida lives to fight another day and the Apalachicola is down but not out," says National Wildlife Federation spokeswoman Tanya Galloni.

Florida's Apalachicola Bay and its prized oysters have seen a large decline over the past decade stemming from several factors: lower water flow and the over-harvesting of oysters in the wake of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil spill.