BRADENTON, Fla. — Florida filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking an injunction from the U.S. Supreme Court to stop what Florida officials call Georgia's "unchecked and growing consumption of water that continues to harm the families of Northwest Florida."
Gov. Rick Scott said the Sunshine State's northern neighbor has refused to "fairly" share the water that flows between the states, threatening the existence of Apalachicola Bay, its oyster beds, and the future economic development of north Florida.
The state filed suit to stop Georgia's "unmitigated consumption of water," he said.
"Generations of Florida families have relied upon these waters for their livelihood, but now risk losing their way of life if Georgia's actions are not stopped," said Scott's press release announcing the suit. "After 20 years of failed negotiations with Georgia this is our only way forward in securing the economic future of Northwest Florida."
The suit asks the high court to equitably apportion the interstate waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, or ACF Basin.
Georgia will vigorously defend its water rights, said a statement from Brian Robinson, spokesman for Gov. Nathan Deal.
"The only 'unmitigated consumption' going on around here is Florida's waste of our tax dollars on a frivolous lawsuit," Robinson said. "Florida is receiving historically high water flows at the state line this year, but it needs a bogeyman to blame for its poor management of Apalachicola Bay."
Robinson also said that Georgia's conservation efforts have decreased metro Atlanta's water use even as the population grew substantially, and Georgia offered a framework for an agreement to which Florida never responded.
"This lawsuit is political theater and nothing more," he said, adding that Georgia's "case is the only one with any merit."
No details have been made public about options either state may have discussed.
Florida and Georgia have been locked in a decades-long legal battle over population growth and man-made dams — particularly in the Atlanta region — that led to below-average river flows downstream and increased salinities.
Those conditions stressed the oyster populations and allowed a persistent occurrence of oyster predators, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, which in mid-August approved Scott's request for a commercial fisheries failure declaration for oyster fishing in Apalachicola Bay.
The declaration makes it possible for Congress to appropriate funds for economic assistance to fishing businesses and communities affected by the disaster, and to support other activities addressing the disaster.
The long-held dispute centers on uses of the watershed from northern Georgia to Florida and Alabama along the ACF River Basin.
"Georgia is legally obligated to use interstate waters in a way that does not harm downstream states," Scott said. "It is time for Georgia to shoulder the burden of its metropolitan expansion and poor water management practices, rather than imposing the cost of its unchecked consumption on Florida's families downstream."
Several years ago, Georgia officials implemented conservation practices and options for preserving drinking water primarily as a result of severe drought. The state has also used bond proceeds to build local reservoirs to store potable water.