Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Official sides with Georgia over Florida in water lawsuit

ATLANTA — A judicial official sided with Georgia in a decades-long dispute over water rights with Florida on Tuesday, recommending that the U.S. Supreme Court refuse Florida's high-stakes request to cap water use by its neighboring state.

The dispute focuses on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, covering nearly 20,000 square miles in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers meet at the Georgia-Florida border to form the Apalachicola, which flows into the bay and the Gulf of Mexico beyond.

The recommendation from Special Master Ralph Lancaster, who was appointed by the court to oversee Florida's suit against Georgia, is not a final decision. The court's review of Lancaster's report and responses from each state could take months. The states' battle over water use dates back to 1990, and includes drawn-out negotiations and several lawsuits.

The initial decision was a big blow for Gov. Rick Scott, who had decided to take Florida's case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court and announced the lawsuit in the town of Apalachicola with great fanfare. Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for Scott, said the governor's office was reviewing the report by the special master but did not offer any comments beyond that.

In the past few weeks Scott has been forced to defend the lawsuit because the state's legal fees in the complicated case have been rapidly mounting. The state has spent more than $41 million in the past 18 months alone, an amount that Republicans in charge of the Florida House say is too much.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said he was "incredibly pleased" by Lancaster's conclusion.

"Georgia remains committed to the conservation efforts that make us amicable stewards of our water," he said in a statement. "We are encouraged by this outcome which puts us closer to finding a resolution to a decades-long dispute over the use and management of the waters of the basin."

Others hailed Lancaster's recommendation as a victory for Georgia after months of worry that the outcome would hurt industries that contribute millions to the state's economy. The Georgia Agribusiness Council called it "great news" for the state's agriculture industry, while the Metro Atlanta Chamber thanked Deal and others "for vigorously and successfully defending the state's water rights."

Florida's 2013 lawsuit sought a cap on Georgia's water use, blaming farmers and booming metro Atlanta for low river flows that harmed the environment and fisheries dependent on freshwater entering the area. Alabama isn't directly involved in the case but supported Florida in court filings.

Georgia, though, warned that a cap would damage the state's economy and argued that Florida didn't prove its use of water caused low river flows. The state's attorneys also said there was little proof that capping Georgia's use would substantially help Floridians.

Lancaster agreed, writing that Florida provided "no evidence" that a cap would help the state outside of drought periods and that any benefits "are likely rare and unpredictable." He also questioned Florida's decision not to include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages dams that affect the river basin, in its lawsuit.

"Without the ability to bind the Corps, I am not persuaded that the court can assure Florida the relief it seeks," Lancaster wrote.

Lancaster repeatedly urged the states' attorneys to settle during the case, to no avail.

Official sides with Georgia over Florida in water lawsuit 02/14/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 9:03pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. One of the best places for investing in a rental house is in Tampa Bay

    Real Estate

    Two Tampa Bay ZIP Codes are drawing national attention.

    . If you're looking to invest in a house to rent out, few places are better than  ZIP Code 34607 in Hernando County's Spring Hill area, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
 file photo]

  2. Bucs' Vernon Hargreaves: 'I'm not making any plays'


    TAMPA — Eli Manning gathered his receivers together on the sideline during the Giants' Week 4 game against the Bucs and told them he planned to target the weakest link of the secondary all afternoon.

    Patriots receiver Chris Hogan gets position in front of Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves for a 5-yard touchdown pass in New England’s win on Oct. 5.
  3. Suspect in Maryland office park shooting is apprehended


    EDGEWOOD, Md. — A man with a lengthy criminal past who was fired from a job earlier this year for punching a colleague showed up for work at a countertop company on Wednesday and shot five of his co-workers has been arrested, authorities said. Three of them were killed and two critically wounded.

    Harford County, Md., Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler shows a picture of Radee Labeeb Prince, the suspect in the workplace shootings.
  4. Lightning's J.T. Brown to stop anthem protest, focus on community involvement

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer raise his first as a protest during the national anthem before games.

    J.T. Brown says he will work more with the Tampa police and groups that serve at-risk young people.
  5. The two Ricks tangle at what may be final debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — In what was likely the last mayoral forum before the Nov. 7 election, Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker started out small, discussing neighborhood issues like recycling and neighborhood funding. They ended tangling over familiar subjects: the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, sewage …

    Ex-Mayor Rick Baker, left, and Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, debated familiar topics. The Times’ Adam Smith moderated.