by Brad Matthews
A year after Florida filed a lawsuit in a long-running dispute with Georgia over the ACF [Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River] Basin, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli filed a brief, at the request of the Supreme Court, arguing that the lawsuit should be delayed. Verrilli wants to delay the lawsuit over water consumption until the Army Corps of Engineers is finished revising its master manual for the ACF Basin, which should be completed in September 2015, according to the filing.
The original lawsuit, filed in October 2013, argued that water consumption from the ACF Basin going towards the Atlanta metro area was harming fisheries in Apalachicola Bay and other economic activities in northern Florida. In the brief, Verrilli said, “Florida has pleaded an interstate water dispute of sufficient importance to warrant this court’s exercise of its original jurisdiction, and no other judicial forum is suitable for resolving the overall controversy.”
The Corps has control over the flows, and relies currently on a 2011 ruling from the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that said Georgia had legal right to the water of Lake Lanier at the top of the ACF Basin system. This ruling overruled an earlier 2009 ruling, in which a federal magistrate ruled in favor of Florida and Alabama, who are often allies in the dispute.
The disagreements over the ACF Basin go back to two 1990 lawsuits filed by Florida and Alabama against Georgia. The two states alleged that a 1989 Corps re-allocation of water towards Atlanta was biased towards Georgia and that the re-allocation violated the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act.
Florida’s petition wants the Supreme Court to decide an equitable appointment of the water of the ACF Basin, and cap Georgia’s water usage to a level established by a tri-state memorandum on Jan. 3, 1992. Earlier actions, including litigation from 1990 to 2012, and a compact approved by Congress in 1997, have failed to resolve the dispute (the 1997 compact collapsed in 2003).
While Florida is looking towards the delay with apprehension as economic impacts on northwest Florida become clearer, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, who has called the lawsuit political theater in earlier comments, has been encouraged by the delay and reportedly hopes to return to the negotiating table.