The public cost for Georgia’s seemingly never-ending legal battle with its neighbors over water ballooned to nearly $30 million over the last year.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed an executive order this week shifting $3.5 million from his emergency fund to pay the latest tab for the legal feud. That’s on top of another $26 million Deal set aside last year for the case’s legal fees, according to Deal’s office.
Georgia and Florida are awaiting an order from a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to resolve the fight. Ralph Lancaster, who wrapped up the water war trial last month after weeks of testimony, recently ordered the two states back to the negotiating table.
The fight between the two states – plus Alabama, which has been nervously watching the proceedings – involves water flowing from Lake Lanier downstream through Alabama to Florida’s Apalachicola Bay.
Georgia‘s two neighbors have argued for decades that it has drawn more than its share from the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, posing a threat to the ecological system and harming the livelihoods of their residents.
Georgia counters that the state’s water use had little to do with the collapse of the Apalachicola oyster industry. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave Georgia a stamp of approval last year when it said metro Atlanta would get virtually all the water it needs from Lanier through 2050.
Deal has recently beefed up the state’s legal staff, tapped a water czar and quietly met with his counterparts in Alabama and Florida to potentially discuss a compromise as the courtroom battle escalates. But similar efforts to strike a deal in past years failed to gain any traction.