The costly legal battle with Florida over water rights is about to cost Georgia taxpayers another $10 million.
Gov. Nathan Deal set aside about $11 million for his emergency fund, and his top aide Chris Riley said $10 million of that would “unfortunately” go to the costs of the litigation. Lawmakers still must approve his spending plan, but they are unlikely to tinker with that part of the fund.
The state is so far spending $20 million on lawyers to fight the never-ending water wars with Florida – on top of $20 million previously spent over the last 25 years. That includes an executive order Deal signed last year transferring $4 million from his emergency fund to float the legal costs.
Georgia won a string of recent court victories in the long-running fight with Florida and Alabama over water rights, but the streak was snapped in 2014 when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a last-ditch legal maneuver by Florida seeking to limit Georgia’s water withdrawals from the Chattahoochee River to 1992 levels.
The state has assigned a small army of attorneys – about 70 at last count – to prove Georgia is a prudent steward of its water resources. Court documents show they’ve pored over 4 million documents and at least 660,000 emails produced by Florida.
(Florida has tasked its own legal brigade to vet more than 2 million pages and 2.3 terabytes of data from its northern neighbor in an effort to show it deserves a greater share of the downstream water.)