Faced with a “fishery disaster” in the Apalachicola Bay oyster beds, Florida filed a suit in the U.S. Supreme Court that would reduce metro Atlanta’s water consumption to 1992 levels, a time when the region’s population was less than half of what it is today. If the reduction was successful, Atlanta’s growth would effectively stop. There would be no new water permits, which would mean no new housing developments, no new industries and little new construction.
Georgia would like the Supreme Court to decline to take the case, a hope predicated on the fact that Atlanta’s water consumption in recent years has actually declined. The state will argue that the high court should step back and let the metro area continue its conservation efforts.
This approach has two problems.
First, it is not clear if the drop in water consumption is the result of conservation or if there were other factors at work. During the decline, a major economic decline meant fewer new homes and new or expanded industries. In addition to the economic downturn, wet weather was prevalent during the years when consumption was reduced the most, which meant less lawn watering, and also a drought, which led to emergency water restrictions. All these things must be taken into consideration when water consumption is examined.
Second, this is the sort of case the Supreme Court routinely takes up, and when it does it has made it clear that a state cannot waste its water supply — especially if it will have a negative impact on another state.
Florida is asking the court to appoint a special master to sort out claims and make sure there is a steady flow downstream.
Although Alabama has yet to join Florida in the case, Jennifer Ardis, spokeswoman for Gov. Robert Bentley, has expressed the opinion that Atlanta’s efforts are “a drop in the bucket.”
She added that “even the most aggressive conservation measures will not reduce Atlanta’s consumption to a legal level that reflects Atlanta’s fair share.”
That said, it would surprise no one if Alabama sides with Florida and goes to court.