TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida is suing the state of Georgia over its consumption of fresh water in a river system that serves three Southeastern states.
The legal action filed directly with the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday is an escalation in a legal dispute lasting more than two decades.
The lawsuit is not a surprise. Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced in August that the state would ask the high court to force Georgia to more equitably share water that flows downstream from Georgia into Alabama and Florida.
Scott's move came after the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay suffered a near collapse and after federal officials declared a fishery disaster for oystermen on the Gulf Coast. Oysters need a mix of fresh and salt water in order to thrive.
"Georgia has refused to fairly share the waters that flow between our two states, so to stop Georgia's unmitigated consumption of water we have brought the matter before the U.S. Supreme Court," Scott said in a statement.
"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," Scott added.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has previously criticized Scott and has called the pending lawsuit a waste of money. He also has contended Georgia offered a framework to end the dispute more than a year ago.
The long-running dispute hinges over withdrawals from Lake Lanier, a federal reservoir on the Chattahoochee River that provides water to metro Atlanta.
The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers merge to form the Apalachicola River, which flows to the Gulf of Mexico. In 2009, a federal judge ruled that metro Atlanta had little right to take water from Lake Lanier. He then ordered that metro Atlanta's water withdrawals would be drastically restricted unless the three states reached a settlement.
A three-judge panel from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling in 2011, finding that metro Atlanta could use the reservoir for water with restrictions. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently studying how much water the north Georgia region can take from the system. But corps officials have already acknowledged that it will be years before that study is complete.
Water officials in Atlanta have disputed that the metro area's consumption is harming the oyster fishery and say recent problems have more to do with drought.
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