The battle between Florida and Georgia over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system flooded into the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, where judges heard arguments from both sides in the five-year old case.
Florida and Georgia have been involved in a lawsuit since 2013, when Florida took legal action against Georgia for allegedly diverting “too much water” from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system which the Sunshine State says has damaged both the Apalachicola Bay as well as Franklin County’s seafood industry.
Apalachicola was once the home of a lucrative oyster industry in the Sunshine State, but production levels have fallen drastically in recent years.
Franklin County, which is home to fewer than 12,000 residents, says the area desperately needs the highest court’s help.
Florida says the booming Atlanta metropolis is to blame for the area’s struggle, but Georgia says limiting its water use would be a huge knock to the state’s economy, especially in the Atlanta area.
Last February, the Supreme Court appointed a special master to oversee the matter, who sided with Georgia in the legal fight despite acknowledging Florida had been adversely affected by decreased flows from the Apalachicola River.
“There is little question that Florida has suffered harm from decreased flows in the River,” the Special Master’s report said. “Florida experienced an unprecedented collapse of its oyster fisheries in 2012.”
Special master and Maine lawyer Ralph Lancaster said, however, that Florida hadn’t proven “by clear and convincing evidence” that a cap on Georgia’s water use “would provide a material benefit to Florida.”
On Monday, it appeared justices were trying to side with Florida on the issue, perhaps changing the tide in a decades-long legal battle.
“Can we agree that a cap at the very least would prevent the situation in Florida from getting worse?” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said during the hearing.
U.S. Rep. Dr. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., attended the hearing, appearing confident Florida was headed on the correct path to ensure the court eventually sides with the Sunshine State.
Dunn, whose district covers the Apalachicola Bay area, has routinely pushed for an “equal deal” for the Panhandle communities since taking office last year.
“Today, Florida convincingly argued that we are right on the facts, the law, and the remedy: Florida’s been injured and Georgia can change its actions to address it,” said Dunn.
A decision on the case is expected before the court recesses in June.