Atlanta’s Water Use Spawns SCOTUS Dispute

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By Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson

The U.S. Supreme Court will have to choose between green-lighting an economic disaster in Florida or crippling the city of Atlanta, after it agreed Oct. 10 to hear oral argument in a case pitting Florida and Georgia against one another ( Florida v. Georgia , U.S., No. 142, Orig., argument granted 10/10/17 ).

The argument will be the “latest battle in a long-running war” between the states over the use of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, according to the Feb. 16 report filed by Ralph I. Lancaster, Jr., of Pierce Atwood LLP, Portland, Maine. Lancaster was appointed in 2014 as special master in the case, following special rules that govern legal disputes between states.

The high court also agreed to hear another water dispute in which Colorado, Texas, and the federal government team up against New Mexico ( Texas v. New Mexico , U.S., No. 141, Orig., argument granted 10/10/17 ).

Original Jurisdiction

Disputes between two or more states are filed first in the Supreme Court, rather than a federal district court, under the high court’s “original jurisdiction.”

The court will typically appoint a special master who will act like a trial judge, taking evidence and making recommendations on the merits of the dispute.

Here, the special master said the Supreme Court should reject Florida’s request to divvy up water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which is needed to sustain both the Atlanta region’s more than five million residents and “one of the most productive estuaries in the northern hemisphere.”

The Supreme Court agreed to hear argument over Florida’s “exceptions” to that recommendation. The court, however, didn’t set an exact date for the argument, saying only that it will schedule the argument “in due course.”

Preliminary Proceedings

The court similarly said it would hear a multi-state dispute over the Rio Grande Compact “in due course.”

That case is still in preliminary proceedings. The court must first decide whether to accept the special master’s recommendation to continue with proceedings, or dismiss the case outright.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at

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