Jeff Gill
[email protected]
September 20, 2016

Multiple groups from Georgia, including the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association, are following the lead of some Florida organizations in wanting to chime in on the latest water wars battle between Georgia and Florida.

“Lake Lanier is particularly vulnerable to increased minimum flows at the Georgia/Florida state line, and LLA’s constituents bear a disproportionate brunt of the impact of any increase in those flows — especially during times of drought,” Lake Lanier Association states in its request to file a “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case.

The group’s brief “would advise the court regarding the impacts on Lake Lanier and LLA’s constituents of any change in the amounts of water stored in or released from Lake Lanier.”

However, to save on money, the group said it would only want to file a brief “if increased minimum flow appears to be at issue after presentation of the evidence and argument at trial.”
Georgia and Florida are set to go to trial Oct. 31 over a Florida lawsuit charging Georgia with “overconsumption” of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier in the headwaters.

Florida has said Georgia’s actions have led to economic troubles for Florida’s oyster industry in the Gulf of Mexico.

Georgia has denied the allegations.

Last Thursday, several big-name conservation organizations either based or with offices in Florida filed documents seeking to file friends of the court briefs.

The National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Wildlife Federation and Apalachicola Riverkeeper don’t say specifically they are siding with Florida — or against Georgia — but they say the favor “equitable apportionment” for the ACF Basin.

“The court’s decision here will directly determine the fate of the Apalachicola River watershed,” the organizations stated.

On Friday, other organizations followed with requests to file briefs, including the Georgia Farm Bureau Federation, Atlanta Regional Commission, Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Municipal Association and American Peanut Shellers Association.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, which just opened a new office on the square in downtown Gainesville, joined with Flint Riverkeeper and Alabama Rivers Alliance in also seeking to file.

Their brief would “provide examples of how consumptive use can be reduced throughout the ACF Basin and highlight the economic, ecological, cultural and aesthetic benefits that would accrue to both Florida and Georgia if (that) occurred,” the groups say in their request.

The state of Alabama, which has been involved in past water litigation with Georgia and Florida, also hopes to give input.

It says that, while it’s not involved in the current battle, “if Florida obtains a cap on Georgia’s withdrawals from the Chattahoochee River Basin … Alabama likely would benefit from the enhanced flows that would result.”

The Supreme Court trial is set to take place at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland, Maine, where Ralph Lancaster, a lawyer presiding over the case, is based.

Both sides have said they’re actively engaged in mediation, stating as much in Sept. 2 status reports to Lancaster.

In the meantime, the Army Corps of Engineers is working on a final version of operating plans for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.

A final version of the document is set to be released later this year, corps spokesman Pat Robbins has said.