Georgia is set to shell out $21M this year in water wars legal fees

Another few months of water wars litigation, another costly legal bill.

Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order last month to shift another $5 million from his emergency fund to go to the costs of the legal battle with Florida over water rights. That's on top of the $11 million that Deal transferred from the account in April to float the lawyers' fees, and another $5 million in January for the litigation.

That means the state has set aside about $21 million this year alone for the never-ending legal battle. That's in addition to at least $20 million previously spent over the last 25 years.

Georgia won a string of recent court victories in the long-running fight with Florida and Alabama over water rights, but the streak was snapped in 2014 when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a last-ditch legal maneuver by Florida seeking to limit Georgia’s water withdrawals from the Chattahoochee River to 1992 levels.

The state has assigned a small army of attorneys - about 70 at last count - to prove Georgia is a prudent steward of its water resources. Court documents show they've pored over 4 million documents and at least 660,000 emails produced by Florida.

The arbitrator in the case, Ralph Lancaster, recently warned attorneys not to talk to the media after a story that detailed how he’s been paid more than $160,000 so far to oversee the case.

Georgia can expect to shell out much more for Lancaster’s services. A trial is scheduled to begin October 31 in the special master’s home state of Maine.

Read more about Georgia's water wars

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein
Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.