Another few months of water wars litigation, another costly legal bill.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order last month to shift another $5 million from his emergency fund to go to the costs of the legal battle with Florida over water rights. That’s on top of the $11 million that Deal transferred from the account in April to float the lawyers’ fees, and another $5 million in January for the litigation.
That means the state has set aside about $21 million this year alone for the never-ending legal battle. That’s in addition to at least $20 million previously spent over the last 25 years.
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.
The arbitrator in the case, Ralph Lancaster, recently warned attorneys not to talk to the media after a story that detailed how he’s been paid more than $160,000 so far to oversee the case.
Georgia can expect to shell out much more for Lancaster’s services. A trial is scheduled to begin October 31 in the special master’s home state of Maine.