TALLAHASSEE Fla. (Reuters) - Florida’s water war against Georgia advanced as the U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear an interstate dispute on whether Atlanta’s suburbs are sucking dry the river flow that feeds the oyster beds and fisheries of the northern Gulf Coast.
Georgia had sought to dismiss the suit, filed last October by Florida Governor Rick Scott, that stems from a decades-old fight over Atlanta’s daily demand for 360 million gallons of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint river basins.
Florida blames the over-consumption of water by its neighbor for the collapse of the oyster beds in Apalachicola Bay, which had produced 90 percent of the oysters sold in Florida and 10 percent of the country’s supply.
The court’s willingness to wade into the fight, which contests the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ water-management practices, marks “a major victory for Florida,” Scott said.
“We are fighting for the future of this region and we won’t quit until these resources are restored,” Scott said in a statement.
While not involved in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Alabama has shared Florida’s concerns about the federal government’s approach to a tri-state agreement governing water consumption from the rivers that ultimately feed into the Gulf of Mexico.
Still, the U.S. solicitor general earlier this year recommended that the nation’s highest court not consider the case until the Corps of Engineers finishes revising its master plan for the river system, expected to be implemented in 2017.
In Atlanta, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal issued a statement saying he agreed with attorneys for the Corps of Engineers, who argued that Florida’s case was “premature.”
He urged the federal government to “not get bogged down by Florida’s litigation.”
“We will take every necessary step to ensure that the Corps is able to do its job,” Deal said.
Left unchecked, Georgia’s daily consumption will grow to 705 million gallons per day by 2035, mostly because of Atlanta’s population growth, Florida said in the lawsuit.
No date has been set for oral arguments in the Supreme Court case.
Reporting by Bill Cotterell; Editing by Letitia Stein and Eric Beech