Judge issues ruling on Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint water use

Published 7:16 pm Friday, December 13, 2019

On Wednesday, U.S. Circuit Judge Special Master Paul Kelly Jr. issued what may have been one of the most significant rulings in recent history regarding the ongoing battle between Georgia and Florida over the use of Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint water. 

Kelly ruled in favor of Georgia in a ruling on the management of water from the rivers as managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The battle, sometimes known as the water wars, has been an ongoing point of contention between the states since the 1990s. Florida wanted a court order limiting Georgia’s use of the water, which serves Atlanta and southern Georgia farmlands as well as Florida oyster fisheries.

“Given my factual findings, I recommend denying Florida’s request for a decree because it has not proved the elements necessary to obtain relief,” the ruling stated. “Florida has pointed to harm in the oyster fishery collapse, but I do not find that Georgia caused that harm by clear and convincing evidence. Next, although Georgia’s use of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers has increased since the 1970s, Georgia’s use is not unreasonable or inequitable. Last, I have determined that the benefits of an apportionment would not substantially outweigh the harm that might result. This is especially true given that the Army Corps’ reservoir operations on the Chattahoochee River would prevent most streamflow increases from reaching Florida during the times when more streamflow is needed to alleviate Florida’s alleged harms.”

Florida has long argued that the management of water reservoirs in Georgia, like West Point Lake, have been responsible for the collapse of Apalachicola River oyster fisheries. However, Kelly said the evidence indicated that the cost would likely outweigh the benefits.

“I do not recommend that the Supreme Court grant Florida’s request for a decree equitably apportioning the waters of the ACF Basin because the evidence has not shown harm to Florida caused by Georgia; the evidence has shown that Georgia’s water use is reasonable; and the evidence has not shown that the benefits of apportionment would substantially outweigh the potential harms,” Kelly said in the ruling.

Gov. Brian Kemp celebrated the ruling in a statement on Friday morning.

“We greatly appreciate Special Master Kelly’s recognition of Georgia’s strong, evidence-based case in this litigation,” Kemp said. “We will continue to be good stewards of water resources in every corner of our state, and we hope that this issue will reach a final conclusion soon.”

To view the full ruling, visit Ca10.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/SM142/670.pdf