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ARC and Metro Water District Applaud Unanimous U.S. Supreme Court Decision in Georgia’s Favor

Atlanta — Apr 02, 2021

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) and Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District applaud the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Georgia’s favor in the long-running Florida v. Georgia litigation over water apportionment.

“The Supreme Court today unanimously affirmed that Georgia’s water use is reasonable and is not responsible for the collapse of the oyster fisheries in Apalachicola Bay,” said Katherine Zitsch, managing director of ARC’s Natural Resources group and Director of the Metro Water District. “We celebrate today’s decision, but we know that cycles of drought will persist. We must continue our leading efforts in water conservation and stewardship – for metro Atlanta and our downstream neighbors.”

In the ruling, Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote, “Considering the record as a whole, Florida has not shown that it is ‘highly probable’ that Georgia’s alleged overconsumption played more than a trivial role in the collapse of Florida’s oyster fisheries.”

Kerry Armstrong, ARC Board Chairman, said, “This ruling is a significant milestone for the Atlanta region. Georgia and metro Atlanta depend on having an adequate supply of water to support our economic vitality both today and in the future. I look forward to moving beyond litigation and instead focusing on working with our neighbors on being good stewards of this shared natural resource.”

Conservation measures put in place by the Metro Water District have made an enormous impact, helping reduce the metro Atlanta’s water use by more than 10% even as the region’s population has grown by 1.3 million. These measures include: a toilet rebate program to replace inefficient units; advanced leak detection; and a tiered pricing structure in which users pay higher rates the more water they use.

“Water conservation has truly become a way of life in metro Atlanta,” said Glenn Page, Chairman of the Metro Water District. “We’re using less water today than we were 20 years ago when the Water District was created. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of water utilities, elected officials, and residents across the Atlanta region. But our work is far from done. We are continually innovating and investing in our infrastructure to ensure that our region remains a national leader in water conservation and efficiency.”

Katie Kirkpatrick, Vice Chair of the Metro Water District and President and CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said the ruling will help communities in metro Atlanta and across the state.

“The justices’ unanimous decision guarantees access to clean, fresh water supplies to support Georgia families and the agriculture industry that helps keep them fed,” said Katie Kirkpatrick, President & CEO of the Metro Atlanta Chamber. “It also means that the metro Atlanta region and the entire state can continue to grow responsibly by wisely using Georgia’s natural water resources long into the future.”

Background on Florida v. Georgia litigation

1990
The “Tri-State Water Wars” litigation began in 1990 when Alabama sued the Corps to prevent it from providing additional water to metro Atlanta from Lake Lanier and Allatoona Lake.

1990s and 2000s
Separate cases worked their way through Federal Court. More details are found here.

2014
Florida submits a request to the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to file a lawsuit against Georgia requesting an “equitable apportionment” of the waters of the ACF Basin. An equitable apportionment is a decree stating how much water each State can use. Florida’s lawsuit can only proceed if the Court agrees to hear the case.

2017
The first Special Master issues his report. He recommends that the Supreme Court deny Florida’s request for relief because Florida has not proven by clear and convincing evidence that any injury could be remedied without the US Army Corps of Engineers as a party to the case.

2018
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the special master “applied too strict of a standard” in recommending that the case be dismissed. The case was remanded to the Special Master for further fact finding. The court majority wrote that “Florida will be entitled to a decree only if it is shown that “the benefits of the [apportionment] substantially outweigh the harm that might result.” In a dissenting opinion by Justice Thomas, four justices would have accepted the Special Master’s recommendation and denied Florida’s request for relief, explaining that a remand is unnecessary because the evidence “establish[es] that Georgia should prevail.”

The Supreme Court appoints Senior Judge Paul J. Kelly, Jr. of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to serve as second Special Master and oversee proceedings on remand.

2019
The Special Master issues a report recommending the Supreme Court rule in Georgia’s favor and deny Florida’s request to cap Georgia’s water use. The Special Master writes in his report to the Supreme Court: “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.”

2021
Oral argument was held before the Supreme Court. In response to a question from one of the Justices, Florida’s attorney abandoned all claims around municipal water use, meaning that metropolitan Atlanta’s water use is no longer an issue in the case.

The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) is the official planning agency for the 10-county Atlanta Region, including Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry and Rockdale counties as well as the City of Atlanta and 73 other cities. The Atlanta Regional Commission serves as a catalyst for regional progress by focusing leadership, attention and planning resources on key regional issues.  

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Contact Name: Paul Donsky
Contact Phone: 404-202-4662
Contact Email: pdonsky@atlantaregional.org

NOTICE: Gov. Brian Kemp has extended a public health emergency declaration and a statewide shelter-in-place order for older adults and medically fragile residents through June 12.

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