Gov. Rick Scott disclosed Tuesday that Florida is going to sue the state of Georgia, saying its increased consumption of water is limiting flows to the Apalachicola River.
Scott said in a statement that Florida must take such drastic action because it has been unable to negotiate a settlement in recent decades on how to allocate water between Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Florida's step is an escalation in years of litigation.
"This lawsuit will be targeted toward one thing - fighting for the future of Apalachicola," Scott said. "This is a bold, historic legal action for our state. But this is our only way forward after 20 years of failed negotiations with Georgia. We must fight for the people of this region. The economic future of Apalachicola Bay and Northwest Florida is at stake."
In the past, Florida has sued the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system. But a recent ruling went against Florida in its push to limit Georgia's withdrawals. Much of the problem comes from metro Atlanta taking water from Lake Lanier, a major reservoir on the Chattahoochee River near that city.
Florida's oyster industry has seen a near collapse in the last two years because of reduced water flow and because of drought.
Earlier in the day, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson held a U.S. Senate field hearing where they heard about the impact that drought and reduced water flows have had on Apalachicola Bay.
The federal government a day earlier declared a fishery disaster for those who harvest oysters out of the Gulf of Mexico. A federal official testified that would make oystermen eligible for aid should Congress agree to such relief.
Oystermen told the senators that people are leaving the area because the huge drop-off in oyster harvests. They complained that Georgia is taking more than its "fair share" of freshwater from the river system that feeds the bay.