The Supreme Court sets a date for Georgia’s water wars dispute

Credit: Greg Bluestein

Credit: Greg Bluestein

The U.S. Supreme Court has set a Jan. 8 date to hear arguments in Georgia's ongoing water rights dispute with Florida, in what could be a final round of arguments in an increasingly expensive legal fight that has raged for decades.

Georgia lawyers hope to use the showdown to convince the high court to confirm a major legal victory in February. That’s when a special master appointed by the Supreme Court urged the justices to reject Florida’s call for strict new water consumption limits.

Georgia officials have long argued the state's water consumption was reasonable and warned limits could devastate the state's economy, while Florida said new caps were crucial to preserve downstream water flow for power plants, the agriculture industry and fragile environmental ecosystems.

Florida has since called on the high court to spurn special master Ralph Lancaster's recommendation that Florida had "failed to show that a consumption cap" was needed after five weeks of hearing testimony in the case.

There are high stakes in the Supreme Court's decision.

The nine justices could approve or reject Lancaster's recommendation regarding the "equitable distribution" of water or direct him to re-examine the case. Congress could also weigh in -- lawmakers from Georgia, Florida and neighboring Alabama have all tangled to have their say in recent years -- and other lawsuits are possible.

Gov. Nathan Deal has shifted more than $30 million in the state budget so far to pay for this particular legal battle with Florida, and his administration signaled it was ready to spend more to win the fight.

Read more: Why the Supreme Court is hearing the Georgia-Florida water wars fight