By: Clyde Morris, Attorney for the Lake Lanier Association
About a year ago, Florida asked for permission to file suit against Georgia in the Supreme Court of the United States, asking the high court to equitably apportion the waters of the ACF in a way that would send more water to Florida. Yesterday, the Court granted Florida leave to file its Complaint against Georgia and gave Georgia thirty days to file its Answer.
This case is about “equitable apportionment,” which at its most fundamental level is about how much of the ACF’s water each state is entitled to use by law. To quote one excerpt from Florida’s Complaint:
50. The existing storage, evaporation, and consumption of water by Georgia’s municipal, industrial, recreational, and agricultural users have diminished the amount of water entering Florida in spring and summer of drought years by as much as 3,000-4,000 cubic feet per second (“cfs”). This has altered the flow regime of the Apalachicola River during the most vulnerable times for riverine and estuarine species. In recent drought years, Apalachicola River flows averaged less than 5,500 cfs throughout the entire late-spring-summer-fall period from May through December. Such long durations of extremely low flows were unprecedented before 2000.
So, the challenge is all about the amount of ACF flow to which Florida is entitled, which in turn is fundamental to the LLA’s mission of “Full Lake” (and spurred the LLA to dive into the Water Wars previously). To quote a portion of Florida’s Prayer for Relief:
Florida further prays that the Court enter an order enjoining Georgia, its privies, assigns, lessees, and other persons claiming under it, from interfering with Florida’s rights, and capping Georgia’s overall depletive water uses at the level then existing on January 3, 1992.
In determining whether to cap “Georgia’s overall depletive water uses at the level then existing on January 3, 1992,” the Supreme Court will consider the uses to which the State of Georgia and the Corps of Engineers now put the waters of the ACF, as well as the uses for which Florida seeks to obtain more of that water.
The fact that there is an original jurisdiction, equitable apportionment case in the Supreme Court of the United States that could determine forever how much of the water in the ACF we may be able to keep and use is of august importance to everyone in Georgia, and especially to those who are concerned about Lake Lanier. And while it is perhaps hard to imagine this beautiful lake, which supports millions of people, being drained to prop up a desirable but tenuous oyster farming operation in the Gulf of Mexico that has recently been the victim of Florida’s overharvesting as much as nature’s droughts, that is the proposition that has been laid before this nation’s highest court.
We will periodically update membership on the case via the LLA website and newsletter. But for now, it is most important to recognize the critical importance of Florida’s legal action and the extensive repercussions that could result on Lake Lanier.