On April 1, 2021, the United States Supreme Court, Florida v Georgia, ruled that Florida had not been able to provide clear and convincing evidence that Georgia’s excessive consumption of interstate waters had injured it and, therefore, that Florida was not entitled to one had a court order urging Georgia to reduce its water use.
This interstate water dispute affects the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which supplies both Florida and Georgia with water. Florida sued Georgia in an original lawsuit in 2013, alleging Georgia consumed more than its fair share of the water from that basin, which in turn decimated Florida’s oyster fisheries and generally harmed its river ecosystems. As a remedy, Florida sought an order “urging Georgia to reduce its consumption of pool water”.
After an initial round of proceedings before a special master that led to a review and pre-trial detention by the court in 2018, see Florida v Georgia, 138 S. Ct. 2502 (2018), the Special Master ruled in favor of Georgia, stating that “Florida could not prove by clear and convincing evidence that Georgia’s alleged overconsumption caused serious damage to Florida oyster fishing or its river and flora.”
The court upheld. Florida’s evidence for both alleged violations was inadequate. The court initially concluded that although Florida has categorized the damage to Florida’s oyster population as a “grave injury” under its water sharing case law, it has not been able to demonstrate with reasonable assurance that Georgia’s water consumption was the cause of the violation. Instead, according to the court, Florida has only shown that “has increased [river] Salinity and predation contributed to the collapse, not that Georgia’s overconsumption caused the increased salinity and predators. “
Next, the Florida court rejected the more general argument that water use in Georgia had harmed Florida’s river ecosystems, agreeing with the special master that there was “no evidence” that “any type of river has been seriously injured by alleged overconsumption in Georgia.”
Not prejudicing these injury and causation issues, the court ruled that Florida was not eligible for an order requiring Georgia to reduce its consumption of pool water.
Judge Barrett issued the opinion for a unanimous court.
DOWNLOAD THE OPINION OF THE COURT OF JUSTICE