Type to search

Columns David Pendered Main Slider

Birds of a feather flock together in briefs filed in Florida/Georgia river basin lawsuit

apalachicola, gazebo

The fate of Apalachicola Bay and its river basin is at issue in a lawsuit the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on by June 30. File/Credit: David Pendered

By David Pendered

APALACHICOLA, FL. – There are no surprises in the groupings of organizations that submitted “friend of the court” briefs in the federal lawsuit filed by Florida against Georgia to get more water out of the Chattahoochee River basin. The hearing began Monday.

apalachicola, gazebo

The fate of Apalachicola Bay and its river basin is at issue in a federal court hearing that started Monday. Credit: David Pendered

Business interests stuck together. Environmental groups stuck together.

The Metro Chamber contends that, “metro Atlanta’s horticulture and landscaping industry is larger than Florida’s Apalachicola oyster industry.” The National Audubon Society contends that if the basin isn’t protected, “the ecosystem, and the way of life it supports, may well be lost for generations to come.”

The hearing began Monday in a federal courtroom in Washington. Both parties expect it to last about six weeks, according to case filings. A special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court is to submit his non-binding recommendation to justices, who are expected to issue a ruling in 2017.

Highlights of the case history are on a page located at this link.

The two outliers in the group of filers are the state of Colorado and a law professor at Vanderbilt University. Colorado said its own water negotiations could be affected by the outcome of the case. J.B. Ruhl, the professor, has written extensively on environmental, natural resources and property law, according to his profile.

The briefs present a distinct vantage point on facts of the case that are so well worn:

apalachicola, mullet

A couple wades in the water to cast for mullet along the banks of Apalachicola Bay. Credit: David Pendered

  • Must metro Atlanta and the agri-industry of southwest Georgia provide more water than they do to the state of Florida, which contends a lack of water flow from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin into Apalachicola Bay is killing the bay’s seafood industry;
  • A generally accepted description of the basin says it drains a region of almost 20,000 square miles that spans from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, along the border of Alabama and Georgia, and into Florida where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

In all, 11 amicus curiae briefs were filed between Oct. 19 and Oct. 21, according to the case file. Nine of the 11 briefs represent a total of 24 signers. The two other briefs were filed by Colorado and the professor.

The briefs, by definition, are shaped as expert testimony on various aspects of the case. Some say they are in support of Georgia or Florida. Others don’t identify a side.

apalachicola, tributary at wewa

Tupelo honey comes from trees found almost exclusively in the Florida Panhandle, including the lowlands along the Chipola River, which is several feet below its normal level as it passes Wewahitchka, Fl. Credit: David Pendered

Here are selected highlights:

Atlanta Regional Commission

  • In support of Georgia: “The principles of equitable apportionment protect existing users above all else;” “Water use by Georgia should not be capped because any limit will inflict great damage on Georgia without benefiting Florida;”

Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Inc.; Regional Business Coalition of Metropolitan Atlanta; and Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Inc.

  • In support of Georgia: “Metro Atlanta is a crucial regional, national and global center;” “Metro Atlanta’s horticulture and landscaping industry is larger than Florida’s Apalachicola oyster industry;”

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Flint Riverkeeper, and Alabama Rivers Alliance

  • Neither side supported: “[T]he River Groups encourage the Special Master to consider the true value that the ACF Basin provides to all its states, and to ensure that his decision does not rely on unscientific distinctions between economic and ecological harms. By doing so, the Special Master can ensure that his equitable apportionment decision improves the health and vitality of the ACF Basin for the benefit of all.”
Apalachicola, sunk fishing boat

Decaying commercial fishing boats dot the shoreline along the Apalachicola Bay and its river basin. Credit: David Pendered

Georgia Municipal Association; Association County Commissioners of Georgia; Georgia Association of Water Professionals; and Georgia Conservancy:

  • Neither side supported: “Georgia and its cities and counties have engaged in substantial and comprehensive water conservation efforts that go above what is ‘financially and physically feasible’ and ‘within practical limits’ in their stewardship of ACF water resources.”

American Peanut Shellers Association and Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association

National Audubon Society, Defenders of wildlife, Florida Wildlife Federation, and Apalachicola Riverkeeper

  • Neither side supported: “If the Court does not step in to protect the Apalachicola region, the ecosystem and the way of life it supports, may well be lost for generations to come.”
Apalachicola, Lady Louise

The Lady Louise has sunk at the Scipio Creek Mooring Basin, in Apalachicola, Fl., and her booms that once trolled for seafood now serve as perches for crows and other birds. Credit: David Pendered

Georgia Farm Bureau Federation

  • Neither side supported: “Drastically reducing or eliminating the water available for irrigation in southwest Georgia would have far-reaching consequences. This entire region’s way of life and economic foundation cannot be overlooked in considering equitable apportionment schemes.”

Georgia Agribusiness Council, Inc.; Georgia Green Industry Association; and the Georgia Urban Agriculture Council, Inc.

  • Neither side supported: “Any potential benefit to Florida from an equitable apportionment pales in comparison to the unavoidable negative impact on existing agriculture industries in Georgia. And the Georgia agriculture industry has more than shouldered its burden to reduce water consumption.”
apalachicola, new economy

Snowbirds and other tourists add to the economy of Apalachicola and its river basin. Credit: David Pendered


  • Neither side supported: “[T]his Court should require Georgia to establish the reasonableness of the full amounts of its proposed diversions by clear and convincing evidence. If Georgia fails to do so, this Court can properly impose, as an equitable remedy, a cap on Georgia’s ACF consumption. Doing so will complement Alabama’s efforts to challenge the Corps of Engineers’ proposed accommodation of Georgia’s water-supply withdrawals from Lake Lanier.”


  • Neither side supported: “[I]f Florida’s argument were adopted, it would inappropriately elevate one State’s sovereign rights above another’s.”

J.B. Ruhl – At Vanderbilt University since 2011; at Florida State University from 1999 to 2011.

  • In support of Florida: “ The Court has apportioned acre feet of water, but it has also fish and the dilution of pollution. This proceeding presents an opportunity for the Court to acknowledge those apportionment decisions and its doctrine in general for what it is about at heart—the apportionment of ecosystem services.”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


You Might also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.