Opinion: Settling ‘Water Wars’ still best solution

With the U.S. Supreme Court hearing arguments for the first time in the struggle over water by Florida and Georgia, a national spotlight points toward the need to amicably settle this matter.

Two, and sometimes three, states have been here before. This newspaper’s essentially written this editorial before.

Yet the water wars continue with a latest round of courtroom maneuvering in the decades-long battle over the water system that supplies Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit brought by Florida.

Boiled to a bare essence, the allegation remains that Georgia’s use and stewardship of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin has damaged Florida’s Apalachicola Bay oyster industry.

The long-running water wars, which have at times included Alabama as well, have cost scores of millions of taxpayer dollars and, we’d suggest, introduced unprofitable uncertainty to the economies of Georgia and the other states party to this battle.

As we’ve suggested here multiple times before, common sense and fiscal prudence point solidly toward the need of the states to settle this matter on their own. That’d be far preferable to a status quo that benefits only the legal profession and politicians who can campaign on slogans amounting to promises to whip Georgia over water.

This Editorial Board’s not alone in pushing for a mutual settlement. The plain-talking “Special Master” earlier appointed by the nation’s high court has made just that point. The master, Ralph Lancaster, has said that, “when this matter is concluded — and I hope I live long enough to see it happen — one and probably both of the parties will be unhappy with the court’s order. Both states will have spent millions and perhaps even billions of dollars to obtain a result which neither one wants.”

In today’s opinion package, a water expert from the University of Pennsylvania likewise suggests that a multi-state agreement beats a costly pursuit via the courts to win – rather than settle – this matter.

A tri-state group in 2015 also urged mutual cooperation on sharing water, and even laid out a 138-page framework for collaboration. As we wrote in a 2015 editorial, “The group represents a diverse array of interests, from water-using power companies and farmers, to environmentalists and oyster gatherers across the three states. The Stakeholders also worked closely with scientists and universities to bring rigor to their plan.” In disclosure, The Cox Foundation was among more than 60 contributors financially supporting this project. Cox Enterprises Inc. owns The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In their executive summary, the ACF Stakeholders Inc. group urged “the citizens of this Basin to focus on that which unites, rather than divides, us. We can and must act with common purpose to manage our shared water resources sustainably.”

With this battle now before the nation’s high court for the first time, that point is perhaps truer now than ever before.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.

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