by Lloyd Dunkelberger, The News Service of Florida
Following an adverse legal decision, Florida’s two U.S. senators have joined forces to urge the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to not finalize water-control standards for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin.
The joint letter from Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, the commanding general and chief for the Corps in Washington, D.C., came after a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court recommended that Florida be denied relief in its claim that overconsumption of water in Georgia is damaging the Apalachicola River and Apalachicola Bay in Florida.
“While we do not agree with his final recommendation, the special master correctly points out that Florida has indeed suffered real harm due to Georgia’s unrestrained overconsumption of water,” Nelson and Rubio wrote in the letter. “The master’s report also emphasizes the need for the Army Corps to reevaluate its position with respect to the impacts on the Apalachicola River and Bay.”
Florida’s two senators urged the Corps not to finalize what is known as a “water control manual” for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system and instead “ensure these decisions are based on sound science and take into account the recommendations of relevant experts at the federal agencies and the very lengthy trial record.”
“The master has credited the testimony of Florida’s experts on the ecological harms to our state and to fail to consider all of this new information would violate both the spirit and the letter of the National Environmental Policy Act,” the senators said.
Nelson and Rubio said the failure of Georgia and the Corps to adopt “meaningful limitations” on water use in the river system has damaged the ecology and economy of the Apalachicola Bay area.
“Last year, the ACF river basin was named the most endangered in the country,” the senators said. “Apalachicola Bay used to produce plentiful oysters, but due to reduced water flows, is no longer a productive ecosystem.”
Florida filed a lawsuit against Georgia in 2013, alleging that Georgia diverts too much water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin. The Supreme Court appointed Special Master Ralph Lancaster, a Maine lawyer, to hear arguments and make a recommendation for how the court should address the issue.
The senators noted the special master’s report found “there is little question that Florida has suffered harm from decreased flows” into the Apalachicola River and that water consumption by Georgia’s agriculture industry has gone “largely unrestrained.”
Nelson and Rubio also noted the special master emphasized the role of the Corps in managing the water system. In fact, Lancaster said he could not find an equitable settlement of water use between Florida and Georgia without the Corps’ participation, while noting the Corps was not a party in the lawsuit.
“It is imperative that the Army Corps take into account the special master’s findings,”” Florida’s senators said. “A matter as important as the health and financial well-being of an entire ecosystem deserves deep scrutiny.”
Earlier this week, U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, a Republican whose district includes Apalachicola Bay, also called on the Corps to suspend the possibility of allowing more water use in Georgia until the federal agency meets with Florida officials and others to discuss the impact of the court report.