After nearly 30 years of litigation between the states, the plight of the Apalachicola River and Bay was finally heard by a Special Master appointed by the Supreme Court of the United States. This long-awaited decision is a watershed moment in our history.

On behalf of the Apalachicola River, Floodplain and Bay and the communities and citizens this ecosystem supports, Apalachicola Riverkeeper, along with our partners, National Audubon Society; Defenders of Wildlife and Florida Wildlife Federation filed an Amicus Brief with the Supreme Court in support of the need for freshwater to protect the ecosystem that includes the river, floodplain, bay and eastern Gulf of Mexico. To read our Amicus Brief filing (see exhibit #524) and other documents associated with this milestone case, click here.

To understand Florida’s case as presented and the remedies it requested, read the State of Florida’s post-trial brief, click here.

The Special Master’s recommendation and report to the Supreme Court were made public on February 14th, 2017. Read the entire Special Master’s report

Here is the Special Master’s Executive Summary of the recommendation: “In sum, the Report recommends that the Court deny Florida’s request for relief because the Corps is not a party to this original jurisdiction proceeding. Because the Corps is not a party, no decree entered by this Court can mandate any change in the Corps’ operations in the Basin. Without the ability to bind the Corps, I am not persuaded that the Court can assure Florida the relief it seeks. I conclude that Florida has not proven by clear and convincing evidence that its injury can be redressed by an order equitably apportioning the waters of the Basin.”

Apalachicola Riverkeeper’s response to the Special Master’s recommendation:

“The recommended order by the US Supreme Court Special Master Ralph Lancaster is a setback in terms of immediate action to help the Apalachicola River and Bay. But the fight is certainly not over and Florida now has an even more compelling case based on the findings. The special master affirmed conclusively that Georgia’s overuse of water and mismanagement of the water – has caused real economic, social, and environmental harm to our state. As to the Corps, Lancaster states The evidence presented at trial suggests that the Corps’ reservoir operations are a significant, and perhaps the primary, factor influencing the amount of streamflow crossing the state line during times of drought and low flows” This documented failure to safeguard this resource is cause for the relevant federal and state agencies to work together to adopt a water management plan that sustains all the users in the basin, including the Apalachicola River, Floodplain and Bay.”

Congress Takes Action

Apalachicola Riverkeeper is encouraged that Florida’s elected and appointed leaders are viewing the special master’s findings as a guide to push for meaningful corrective action immediately.  Senators Nelson and Rubio and Congressman Dunn are actively pursuing this issue with their respective filings in Congress and letters to the US Corps of Engineers:

Florida’s Senators Nelson and Rubio joined forces to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to not finalize water-control standards for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin.
Read the letter here (PDF)

Senator Nelson files bill to help Florida in ‘water war’ with Georgia

“In response to the Court’s decision, Nelson filed legislation that would, among other things, explicitly require the Army Corps to send an adequate amount of freshwater south to Apalachicola Bay. The lack of freshwater flowing into Apalachicola Bay is having a devastating effect on the local oyster industry and local economy, Nelson said. The oystermen whose livelihood depends on having enough freshwater in the bay are relying on us to get this fixed.” Read this bill here (PDF)

Dr. Neal Dunn (FL-02) announced that he has introduced H.J. Res 77; a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution of disapproval to halt the implementation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers revised Master Water Control Manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin. This Joint Resolution urges the US Corps of Engineers to halt finalizing and issuing its Water Control Manual and to revisit the issue with all stakeholders

Read the CRA Joint Resolution here (PDF)

For additional background on the CRA, click here (PDF)

In addition to Senators Nelson and Rubio’s letter to the Corps of Engineers, Representative Dunn and 26 members of the House of Representatives also sent a letter to Lt. General Todd T. Semonite of the US Army Corps of Engineers calling for the Corps to halt implementation of the Water Control Manual and meet with stakeholders immediately to discuss the Corps’ water control practices at the ACF River Basin.

To read the letter from the US House of Representatives to the US Corps of Engineers, click here (PDF)

What’s next?

U.S. Supreme Court Seeks More Info Regarding Florida-Georgia ‘Water War’

SUPREME COURT to hear oral arguments in “Water War” on January 8, 2018.