Supreme Court rules against Florida in water lawsuit affecting Oyster population

Fresh Oysters – Courtesy: Shutterstock – Image by Natalia Lisovskaya

Earlier this year, we reported that the U.S. Supreme Court was scheduled to hear a long-awaited water lawsuit case for a river system that lies along the Florida-Georgia state line.

The Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system stretching from Florida’s Apalachicola Bay to northern Georgia was the body of water in question. The problem Florida officials have been contesting since 2013 is that Georgia uses too much water from the river system, ultimately creating a domino effect into the Apalachicola River system and decimating the oyster population in Franklin County’s Apalachicola Bay. 

On Thursday, April 1, the Supreme Court ruled in Georgia’s favor, unanimously voting to dismiss Florida’s claim that its neighboring state uses too much water that flows from northern Georgia into the Gulf of Mexico. 

“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a unanimous decision, affirmed what we have long known to be true: Georgia’s water use has been fair and reasonable,” Attorney General Chris Carr said.

The Sunshine State has long been known for its sweet Apalachicola Bay oysters, but due to overharvesting and the potential effects of Georgia drawing excessive amounts of water from the river system, FWC shut down the practice through 2025.   

For the second time in three years, Florida failed to prove its case at the highest level because it “has not shown that it is ‘highly probable’ that Georgia’s alleged overconsumption played more than a trivial role in the collapse of Florida’s oyster fisheries,” wrote Justice Amy Coney Barret.

While Florida did not come away with the win, the judges did rule that “Georgia has an obligation to make reasonable use of Basin waters in order to help conserve that increasingly scarce resource.”

The Supreme Court also felt that it was not equipped to make a ruling on the oyster collapse due to the lack of expertise in the area.

After the ruling was made, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said it “will be evaluating all available options to ensure Georgia fulfills” its obligation to conserve and limit its water use. 

At this time, it is unknown what the state will do in regards to the ruling aside from monitoring the water usage.

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