The Supreme Court gave Florida a victory in the long war with Georgia over water rights on Wednesday.
A ruling of a court-appointed special master was “too strict” in resolving that a remedy using the court’s power would boost water flow into the Apalachicola River and help the region’s struggling oyster industry.
The Court’s 5-4 decision sends the case, known officially as Florida v. Georgia, back to Special Master Ralph Lancaster Jr., who ruled in favor of Georgia in a decision issued last year in which Florida later appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In that decision, the special master found that Florida had sustained harm because of the decreased water flow in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin. However, the special master did not prove that Georgia’s water consumption would provide the relief it sought. This was mainly due to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency in charge of federal water projects, not being part of the lawsuit.
The justices, in a 5-4 decision, said Florida provided a “sufficient showing” to the special master and the high court that if Georgia reduced water consumption, it would provide a benefit to the Apalachicola Bay.
Justice Thomas, one of the dissenters, said the special master was correct to find that capping Georgia’s water use would not benefit Florida, a conclusion that favors Georgia under the “traditional balance-of-harms” standard.
Justices Breyer, Roberts Jr., Kennedy, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor sided with Florida. Justices Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Clarence Thomas dissented.