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Court fight not needed in water war

Editorial

Politicians often complain about clogging up the courts and the expenses incurred. But that doesn’t stop them from shoving more hair down the judicial sink.

Take Tuesday’s announcement by Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Apparently figuring that Georgia is in too good of a negotiating position, he is suing our state over the decades old “water wars” that has long had Florida and Alabama at odds with Georgia.

“Because Georgia has not negotiated in good faith to fairly share the waters that flow between our two states,” Scott said in a statement, “we are announcing today that Florida will bring suit in the U.S. Supreme Court next month to stop Georgia’s unchecked consumption of water that threatens the existence of Apalachicola fisheries and the future economic development of this region.”

But to hear Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal tell it, Florida is the one failing to negotiate in good faith. Or negotiate at all, for that matter.

"Gov. Scott's threat to sue my state in the U.S. Supreme Court greatly disappoints me after I negotiated in good faith for two years," Deal said. "More than a year ago, I offered a framework for a comprehensive agreement. Florida never responded. It’s absurd to waste taxpayers’ money and prolong this process with a court battle when I’ve proposed a workable solution."

Indeed, what is absurd is that after more than two decades, elected leaders of the three states have been unable — or at least unwilling — to arrive at an equitable solution over water that flows from North Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico via the Chattahoochee River.

Florida and Alabama contend that Georgia has improperly curtailed the flow, with Florida particularly angry over the effect low water flow has had on oyster beds in the Apalachicola Bay. Federal court rulings initially said that when Lake Lanier was built, it was done so without an eye toward Atlanta using the water. Georgia’s right to use water from the lake for Atlanta consumption recently was won by the state in a decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a ruling which also gave Georgia the upper hand at the negotiating table. That was especially true after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the 11th Circuit ruling, allowing it to stand.

Frankly, it's embarrassing that this argument has continued so long and it should be embarrassing to every gubernatorial administration in the two states for the last 20 years or so that they have collectively been unable to come up with a solution. No one wants Florida’s oyster industry to be destroyed, nor does anyone want residents of metro Atlanta to have inadequate water supplies.

Good-faith negotiation is the best avenue for this dispute. When an issue like this is left up to the federal courts or Congress to decide, it means that the people elected to do their jobs in state government in Georgia and Florida have failed.

Instead, Deal and Scott should find a nice out-of-the-way barbecue joint deep in our section of the state, near the state line. Leave the aides, lawyers and advisers at the capitols and just talk things out. They might be surprised at how much can be accomplished.

The Albany Herald Editorial Board