Thursday, February 16, 2017

Florida v. Georgia Water Rights Case: Senator Bill Nelson Seeks Legislation (to Pull AG PAMELA JO BONDI's IRONS OUT OF THE FIRE)

Thanks to Senator Nelson for helping to protect our oystermen from depredations by Georgia. He's trying A "Hail Mary" play, to pull Florida Attorney General PAMELA JO BONDI's irons out of the fire -- the inept Florida Attorney General's office failed to join an indispensable party -- the Army Corps of Engineers -- inexorably leading in Special Master Ralph Lancaster's recommendation that the Supreme Court rule against Florida's claims. If this were a basketball game or a wrestling match, some people might say BONDI threw it. What an energumen.

Sen. Nelson, Congressman Dunn respond to Supreme Court action in Apalachicola River case
By BRUCE RITCHIE 02/15/17 05:58 PM EST

TALLAHASSEE — U. S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Neal Dunn said Wednesday they were introducing legislation in response to a Supreme Court official's siding with Georgia in its dispute with Florida over water.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott in 2013 asked the U. S. Supreme Court to place a cap on Georgia's water use upstream from Florida's Apalachicola River. Court special master Ralph Lancaster wrote Tuesday that Florida failed to show during a six-week trial last fall how a cap would provide the relief the state is seeking — prompting the response from the two Florida representatives in Congress.

“The lack of freshwater flowing into Apalachicola Bay is having a devastating effect on the local oyster industry and local economy,” Nelson, a Democrat from Orlando, said in a statement. “The oystermen whose livelihood depends on having enough freshwater in the bay are relying on us to get this fixed.”

Nelson's legislation would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to review other studies and data related to freshwater flows in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint rivers and provide recommendations on how to maintain those flows.

Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been battling in court since 1990 over water use from the river system. Alabama and Georgia want water for use by cities, industries and farms while Florida wants enough fresh water to sustain oysters and the seafood industry around Apalachicola Bay.

Alabama was not included in Florida's Supreme Court case against Georgia.

With Lancaster having issued a recommendation, Florida and Georgia now can file exceptions to the finding of fact before the Supreme Court decides the case, said George William Sherk, a former law professor who wrote a book "Dividing the Waters: The Resolution of Interstate Water Conflicts in the United States." He said the Supreme Court at least twice has sent recommendations back for further proceedings.

Nelson filed similar legislation in 2013 but it was not included in a federal water bill that passed that year, Nelson's office said. Georgia's legislative delegation has successfully blocked legislation that it believes would benefit Florida at the expense of Georgia's water use.

The senator's proposed study would have to be conducted before the Corps of Engineers issues an updated water control manual for the federal hydropower dams and reservoirs it operates on the Chattahoochee River.

Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Miami, had asked the Corps last December to delay the manual update. But the agency instead moved ahead, granting Georgia an increase in water use from the Chattahoochee River through 2050.

Dunn said Wednesday he was sending a letter to the agency and will introduce a resolution calling for congressional review of the Corps of Engineers' action. He said a key finding by Lancaster was that Florida had been harmed but Lancaster could not provide relief because the Corps was not included in the governor's lawsuit.

"I am sending a letter to the Army Corps today, with support from several of my Florida colleagues in Congress, calling for it to halt implementation and meet with stakeholders immediately to discuss the Corps’ water control practices at the ACF River Basin,” Dunn said. A copy of the letter was not available.

There still was no substantive reaction from Scott on the lawsuit he filed after Apalachicola Bay's oyster population collapsed in 2012. A spokeswoman for the governor said Tuesday only that the action was being reviewed.

Georgia officials called the decision a major step forward. "We are encouraged by this outcome which puts us closer to finding a resolution to a decades-long dispute over the use and management of the waters of the basin,” Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday.

Dan Tonsmeire of Apalachicola Riverkeeper said Tuesday that he hoped the Supreme Court would use Lancaster's recommendation to pull the Corps of Engineers and Alabama into the lawsuit.

Alabama remains on the same side with Florida in a federal lawsuit filed in 1990 against the Corps.

Former U. S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a Democrat from Tallahassee, told POLITICO Florida she hopes legislation she introduced in 2015 would be reintroduced again in Congress and passed.

That legislation would have required the Corps of Engineers to operate reservoirs consistent with the protection of the ecological integrity of Chattahoochee and Apalachicola rivers along with fisheries in the Bay and Gulf of Mexico. She said she was hopeful but never optimistic that Florida's lawsuit in the Supreme Court would lead to a solution.

"I do know that there is a way that we can accomplish providing the water that North Florida needs and providing the water that Georgia needs," she said. "It's going to take people who are willing to not file lawsuits but are willing to really sit down and have good conversations and figure out the right solutions and work with the Corps to then get the downstream users the water they need not only to protect our environment but to provide an oyster environment so our oyster men and women can get back out on the bay and make the living they deserve."

No comments: