The Florida-Georgia Water Fight: How Water Rights Impact Florida’s Oyster Industry

In the latest episode in a decades-long water fight, Florida filed a lawsuit against Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court over use of water from a shared river basin. At issue is whether Georgia’s consumption of water has deprived Florida of fresh water needed to support its oyster industry. The lawsuit comes just months after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a fishery disaster declaration for Florida’s oysters.[emember_protected custom_msg=”Click here and register now to read the rest of the article!”]
The Florida-Georgia water dispute, which also involves Alabama, centers on a river system that starts in Georgia and flows through Alabama and into Florida, where it empties into the Apalachicola Bay. The Bay is the home of Florida’s oyster industry, which is now facing total collapse. Georgia contends that ongoing droughts and overharvesting of oysters are to blame, while Florida officials claim that upstream water use by metropolitan Atlanta has deprived the Bay of fresh water and increased salinity.
Previously, all three states have been involved in litigation and negotiations related to Georgia’s right to use water for the growing Atlanta area. In 2011, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Georgia, allowing Georgia to use water for Atlanta’s drinking supply. The Supreme Court declined to review that decision, and the current lawsuit seeks injunctive relief against Georgia to stop its allegedly excessive water consumption to the detriment of downstream users.
The present lawsuit demonstrates the increasing difficulties of sharing finite resources such as water, and the need to strike an appropriate balance between the demands of urban growth and the needs of downstream ecosystems. The tilt of the balance is impacted by politics, law, and the influence of advocacy groups involved in both. As with many other significant legal issues faced by Florida’s farmers today, all these influences converge in the courts whose decisions can make or break a sector of the industry.
BIO: A Winter Haven native, Doug received his B.S. degree in 1975 from Duke University and his law degree in 1979 from Stetson University. Doug currently practices in Peterson & Myers, P.A.’s Winter Haven office. [/emember_protected]

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