U.S. Supreme Court Seems Sympathetic To Florida In Water Dispute With Georgia

Jan 8, 2018

The U.S. Supreme Court appears sympathetic to Florida’s complaints in a decades-long water dispute with Georgia. The court heard oral arguments in the case Monday.

Alum Bluff towers over the banks of the Apalachicola River.
Credit Kate Payne via WFSU

Florida hopes to get an equal share of the water that feeds the Apalachicola Bay and its oysters. A report by a Supreme Court-appointed special master argued the justices should side with Georgia, where farmers and the Atlanta metro area also depend on the river system.

But on Monday the justices seemed engaged and open to all sides, including to fixes that could favor Florida. That's according to the Southern Environmental Law Center’s Gil Rogers, who was in the courtroom.

“They all seemed to recognize the importance of Apalachicola and the necessity of enough water getting down into Florida and into the bay," Rogers said. "I just think they’re going to possibly differ over whether the solution is going to be some kind of cap in Georgia on water use or not.”

He says the justices seemed open to exploring different ways to send more water south.

“One of the lines of questions had to do with redressability, basically the idea of, ‘ok let’s assume that Florida is getting harmed by Georgia’s water use. What are the options for addressing that harm? Will they make a difference?’” he said.

The fact that justices are even considering how they might address potential harms done to Florida has river advocates feeling optimistic. Despite the justices' interest in all sides of the case, it's not clear how the they might rule, or to what extent they can solve the issues at play.

The Army Corps of Engineers controls water flow on the river and its network of dams and reservoirs. But the Corps is not part of the case, and it’s still not clear if the court can make the agency change its policies.