Florida needs leverage.
When you’re downstream in a water fight, it’s never good. Unless you have leverage.
I’m talking about the never-ending fight between the states of Florida and Georgia over the water that has historically flowed from the Blue Ridge Mountains all the way to Apalachicola Bay, where it dilutes the salinity just enough to make it a thriving habitat for oysters and other shellfish.
Apalachicola oysters have accounted for about 10 percent of the country’s oysters. But the Florida industry is in trouble because not enough of that precious water source reaches the bay because it is being diverted to ever-growing metropolitan Atlanta.
Florida’s oysters and the industry around them are suffering because of Atlanta’s need for that water.
The legal action over this began in 1990, and it shows no sign of stopping.
Georgia was supposed to be working things out with Florida and Alabama, the other state that is on the wrong side of this trickle-down deal. But this week, Gov. Rick Scott announced that Florida would launch a new legal effort by trying to plead its case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In the middle of this is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is supposed to be an impartial referee. In 1957, the Corps built the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River about 40 miles north of Atlanta. The dam created Lake Lanier, which would serve multiple purposes as a source of recreation and hydroelectric power, flood control, and eventually a much-needed water supply for the high-and-dry Atlanta and its expanding suburbs.
As the population grew, so did the area’s thirst for water. That daily consumption is expected to grow to about 705 million gallons a day in the next 20 years.
So Florida has been engaged in a protracted battle to impose water restrictions on Georgia residents. In 2009, a federal judge gave Florida a temporary victory by ruling that metro Atlanta had to take less than the 21 percent of Lake Lanier’s storage water it was using for its own water supply.
U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson was writing from the Middle District of Florida.
“Too often, state, local, and even national government actors do not consider the long-term consequences of their decisions,” he wrote. “Local governments allow unchecked growth because it increases tax revenue, but these same governments do not sufficiently plan for the resources such unchecked growth will require.
“Nor do individual citizens consider frequently enough their consumption of our scarce resources absent a crisis situation …,” he wrote. “The problems faced in the (Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint) basin will continue to be repeated throughout this country, as the population grows and more undeveloped land is developed.”
But Judge Magnuson’s ruling didn’t last. Two years ago, a federal appeals court in Atlanta reversed his ruling, putting the Corps back in charge of deciding how much water Atlanta could draw out of Lake Lanier.
And so now the plan is to hope that the nation’s high court will side with the Florida-based federal judge instead of the Atlanta-based appellate court.
It would be much simpler to end the 23 years of litigation by resolving this the old-fashioned way. With leverage.
What can we threaten to give to Georgians that will make them voluntarily stop using so much water?
Truckloads of Everglades pythons? Florida voting supervisors? A pipeline of Florida tap water?