US Supreme Court Decision On Prolonged Interstate Water Dispute

Shared Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River System

19 Apr 2021 by The Water Diplomat
WASHINGTON DC, United States

The US Supreme Court has reached a final ruling on the long-running legal battle regarding interstate water distribution between Georgia and Florida, ending a three-decade-long dispute between the two states.

On 1 April 2021, The Supreme Court rejected Florida’s request for a decree to reduce the amount of water Georgia could use from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) river system.

The Sunshine State’s case that Georgia’s overconsumption was to blame for the break down of the oyster population in the Apalachicola Bay was dismissed by the court due to a lack of ‘clear and convincing evidence’.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett said that it was ‘highly probable’ that Florida’s mismanagement of fisheries was to blame for the 2012 oyster collapse.

She wrote for the court: “The record also shows that Florida failed to adequately re-shell its oyster bars. Reshelling is a century-old oyster- management practice that involves replacing harvested oyster shells with clean shells, which can serve as habitat for young oysters".

“Yet in the years before the collapse, while Florida was harvesting oysters at a record pace, it was simultaneously re- shelling its oyster bars at a historically low rate".

In December 2020, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to shut down oyster harvesting in the Apalachicola Bay for the next 4 years in attempt to preserve the oyster population in the Bay.

Despite referencing Florida’s poor fishery management, Justice Barrett made it clear that the cause of the 2012 oyster collapse continues to “remain a subject of ongoing scientific debate” and that she and her colleagues are not qualified to settle that debate.

In closing, the Court cautioned that despite their legal victory, Georgia has a responsibility to make ‘reasonable use’ of the interstate waters in order to prevent water scarcity in the basin.