Georgia, Florida to mediate water war

Georgia has requested a mediator to resolve the 25-year water war with Florida. Florida is on board, according to recently released court documents.

A settlement, though, between the long-warring states which disagree over how to share the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers doesn’t appear imminent. But the move towards compromise, announced last week, brightened the outlook of one key water wars observer.

“I’m delighted,” said Ralph Lancaster, an attorney appointed special master by the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the watery dispute. “And I can’t overemphasize the fact that I’m delighted to see both the word ‘settlement’ and the word ‘mediator’ in the reports and to know that you’re moving towards that process.”

Lancaster, appointed a year ago, has repeately and vociferously urged attorneys for Georgia and Florida to settle the water wars case amongst themselves or else risk a possibly unsatisfactory — to both sides — judgement promulgated by the special master.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has set aside $20 million for the latest legal skirmish pitting Florida’s ailing oyster industry against Georgia’s right to use plentiful amounts of Chattahoochee River water, primarily across metro Atlanta. Georgia also seeks to maintain full use of the Flint River and its tributaries for farmers in southwest Georgia.

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The rivers join at the Florida border to become the Apalachicola River. A healthy fresh water-salt water balance is critical for oysters and other critters to survive in the Apalachicola Bay. And therein lies the crux of the never-ending water war: Florida claims that Georgia’s profligate use of the rivers harms oystermen, endangered species and the Panhandle way of life.

Gov. Deal and his Florida counterpart met in June to try and make a deal.

“Unfortunately, those efforts have not advanced and there has been no material progress on settlement since June,” said Georgia attorney Craig Primis in a Nov. 6 status report to the special master. “At this point, Georgia believes that the best way to advance the process is to engage a mediator acceptable to both sides who can create a framework for formal in-person discussions and periodic exchanges of information specifically directed to settlement.”

Florida welcomed the suggestion. As did Lancaster.

“As I have said from the start, if there’s anything, any way at all — any way at all — that this can be settled, it ought to be done,” he said.

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