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Gov. Deal on Supreme Court water case: Georgia has ‘a good story to tell’


A day after the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear oral arguments in ongoing water rights litigation between Georgia and Florida, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal seemed to like his state’s chances.

During an annual environmental address held Wednesday at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Deal rattled off statistics about Georgia and metro Atlanta’s reduction in per capita water use in recent years. Despite the addition of more than a million people, he said, the Atlanta area is drawing roughly the same amount of water from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee and Flint river basins as it was a decade ago.

He called those numbers and others “a pretty good indication of why the state of Florida had such a hard time in the suit they filed against us” challenging Georgia’s water consumption.

“We hope that that [case] will continue to go well,” Deal said during his 25-minute speech, an annual event organized by nonprofit environmental group Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful. “We think that Georgia has a good story to tell.”

The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it would hear the years-old water rights suit between Georgia and Florida during its current term, which will stretch until June or July.

In just one part of the decades-long water skirmish that has also involved Alabama, Florida has called for strict new water consumption limits to be placed on Georgia, arguing that such caps would be crucial to preserving downstream water flow for power plants, the agriculture industry and fragile environmental ecosystems. Georgia, meanwhile, has contended that its water use is reasonable and necessary — and a special master appointed by the Supreme Court has sided with the Peach State.

That special master, Ralph Lancaster, filed a recommendation in February that the justices ignore Florida’s claims because the state had failed to show that a consumption cap was needed.

Gwinnett County, where Deal gave his speech Wednesday, is a suburb of more than 900,000 residents that pulls virtually all of its water from Lake Lanier. But the county has also become a leader in metro Atlanta — and the country — when it comes to water stewardship and wastewater recycling.

Its F. Wayne Hill Water Resource Center treats tens of millions of gallons of wastewater each day before returning it to Lake Lanier cleaner than ever, a fact referenced in a legal brief filed earlier this year as part of Georgia’s litigation with Florida. Gwinnett is also embarking on a plan to develop a $30 million ‘water innovation center’ to promote research and training.

Deal, who left immediately following Wednesday’s speech and did not answer questions from reporters, called the county his “poster child” for treating and returning water back into the Lanier-Chattahoochee-Flint system.

Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful Executive Director Schelly Marlatt said she was “super proud” of that moniker. County Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said she was too — but said it’s only a matter of time before others have to join them, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides.

“The reality is,” Nash said, “everybody’s going to have to move to the same standard that we’re using.”

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The AJC's Tyler Estep keeps you updated on the latest happenings in Gwinnett County government and politics. You'll find more on myAJC.com, including these stories:

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