Calling it "another step in a long process," the director of the Water Resources Department for the City of Gainesville said she wasn't surprised that the United States Supreme Court is giving Florida another chance to make a case against Georgia for water consumption in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin.
"We didn't know what the court was going to do, of course, but I'm not surprised that the court remanded it [the case] back to the special master with some very specific questions that they want him to look into further," said Linda MacGregor.
In a 5-4 decision issued Wednesday morning, the justices said a special master appointed to hear the lawsuit should reconsider Florida's argument that limiting how much water Georgia uses would provide more water downstream to the Apalachicola River that flows into Apalachicola Bay and the nearby Gulf of Mexico. That additional water would benefit Florida's oyster industry.
In a ruling last year, Special Master Ralph Lancaster of Portland, Maine said there should be no consumption cap on the amount of water Georgia uses out of the ACF basin.
MacGregor said the City of Gainesville filed a friend of the court (amicus curiea) document at the onset of the legal proceedings.
"We've commented and provided information to the court during the process that led up to where we are today and I expect to continue in that role," MacGregor said.
MacGregor noted that the opinion released by the court doesn't address water supply for Gainesville or Hall County - or even Lake Lanier - specifically, but officials in the area are still concerned about the ultimate outcome of the lawsuit.
"It does talk about the water control manual of the Corps of Engineers and how that guides the operation of all the dams along the Chattahoochee, so of course, that impacts us," MacGregor said.
MacGregor said there's no way to know at this point how a future decision in favor of Florida might impact water supply in this region. She said that would depend on how much additional water might be allocated to Florida, and at this point, there's no way to make such a determination.
For now, the hope is that Florida's request for a consumption cap on Georgia's water use would be denied.
"The remedy [as proposed by Florida] would cause greater harm than what they [Florida] have experience - that would be the finding of the court that would be the most pro-Georgia finding," said MacGregor.