Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Water Wars: Special Master Finds Against Florida

Florida and Georgia tried the decades-long Water Wars case between them before a U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) assigned Special Master late last year. A ruling in the form of a report and recommendation to SCOTUS, finding Florida did not meet its burden, has now been issued following the filing of post-trial briefs of each state. Florida sought 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 focused 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. Maine resident and Special Master, Ralph I. Lancaster, Jr., previously implored the states to settle out of court rather than live with a costly decision. Strangley, the states initially mediated the case with a mediator whose name was kept secret by an order. Except to hear progress reports, Master Lancaster wanted no part of the mediation process, but did command the parties to try a post-trial mediation. Florida still sought a cap on consumption that would alleviate past damage allegedly caused by Georgia. Despite the Special Master's efforts in getting the sides to meet in a good faith effort to reach a framework for settlement of this equitable apportionment proceeding, he was forced to issue a ruling. He even cited a precedent for controversies between states, quoting a 1942 case for the proposition that "The Supreme Court has 'often expressed' its 'preference' that, where possible, states settle their controversies by ‘mutual accommodation and agreement.’” Florida officials didn’t immediately comment, but the findings did appear to leave an opening to launch a separate legal complaint. The Special Master hinted throughout his Valentine's Day report to SCOTUS that Florida made a grievous tactical error by not including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a party to the lawsuit. "Florida’s asserted harms are imaginary, self-inflicted, or inflicted by the operations of the United States Army Corps of Engineers... but in any event cannot be traced to Georgia’s water use." See article here-- and docket with report and recommendation to SCOTUS here--