Florida vs Georgia “Water Wars” November 7th Hearing Recap

Written by Scott Cole, Esq.

The Georgia/Florida Water Wars were the topic of a hearing before U. S. District Court Circuit Judge Paul Kelly, Jr. on November 7, 2019. Kelly replaced replaced Ralph Lancaster as the Supreme Court of the United States’ Special Master for the case after the Supreme Courts decision in June 2018.  In that decisions, the Supreme Court offered its direction on what findings the Special Master should consider:

  1. To what extent does Georgia take too much water from the Flint River?
  2. To what extent has Florida sustained injuries as a result?
  3. To what extent would a cap on Georgia’s water consumption increase the amount of water that flows from the Flint River into Lake Seminole?
  4. To what extent (under the Corps’ revised Master Manual or under reasonable modifications that could be made to that Manual) would additional water resulting from a cap on Georgia’s water consumption result in additional streamflow in the Apalachicola River?
  5. To what extent would that additional streamflow into the Apalachicola River ameliorate Florida’s injuries?
  6. The Court also noted, the Special Master may make other factual findings he believes necessary and hold hearings (or take additional evidence) as he believes necessary.

Florida v. Georgia, 138 S. Ct. 2502, 2527, 201 L. Ed. 2d 871 (2018).

The Special Master agreed to rephrase Question 4, now stated as “To what extent would additional streamflow into Lake Seminole result in additional streamflow into the Apalachicola River given the Corps’ Master Water Control Manual operational rules or under reasonable modifications that could be made thereto?”

Lawyers for Georgia and Florida reiterated the points made in briefs filed in January, which track the briefs filed since the case began when Florida sued Georgia in the Supreme Court. Florida’s lawyers said Georgia allowed for “unrestrained and mismanaged” irrigation practices along the Flint River and that the adjudicator should require “reasonable regulation” so that more water can flow south and revive the bay’s ecosystem and economy. Georgia’s lawyers spent much of their time picking apart the data sets used by Florida; insisting Georgia’s water usage was far less than Florida’s estimates, and arguing that Florida failed to meet one of the case’s central questions: Do the benefits of a change to reduce adverse impacts to Florida substantially outweigh the cost to Georgia?

Kelly isn’t expected to make a recommendation to the Supreme Court for months. The Supreme Court can accept his findings, reject them, request another round of oral arguments, or direct Kelly or another judge to reconsider those or additional questions.

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