Sunday, October 30, 2016

Water Wars Start On Halloween

Attorneys for the states of Florida and Georgia are to begin arguments on Halloween in the decades-long Water Wars between them. A Special Master whose ruling could influence an eventual U.S. Supreme Court decision to turn down Georgia’s water spigot will begin a trial tomorrow in his home state of Maine. Florida seeks to limit Georgia’s water consumption from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin including Lake Lanier to 1992 levels and to get reparations for alleged economic and environmental harm to Apalachicola's oyster fisheries from drought. The dispute focuses on the river basin which drains almost 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. Ralph I. Lancaster, Jr., the octogenarian Supreme Court appointee, previously advised the states to settle out of court rather than live with a costly decision he stressed neither will like. The states initially tried to mediate the case and chose a mediator whose name was strangely kept secret by Master Lancaster’s order. Status reports filed by the attorneys had indicated meetings between the mystery mediator and high level state officials were continuing before trial, but the parties seem to have reached an impasse. The parties reportedly participated in multiple mediation caucuses to no avail. Except to hear progress reports, Master Lancaster wanted no part of the mediation process, but now will have to try the case himself. In its brief, Florida still seeks a cap on consumption that would alleviate past damage allegedly caused by Georgia. Experts will argue the remedy is reasonable water use reduction mechanisms that would mitigate otherwise substantial future harm. After both sides present their evidence and arguments, Master Lancaster will his recommended ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justices then review his findings and any rebuttals by the states before issuing a final decision likely sometime next year. See news item here-- and docket here--