ELC Submits Amicus Brief to the U.S. Supreme Court to Protect the Apalachicola River

This fall, the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic teamed up with the U.C. Irvine Environmental Law Clinic to submit an amicus on behalf of a coalition of environmental organizations in the Florida v. Georgia interstate water war.

In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court took up Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia in an exercise of the court’s original jurisdiction over disputes between states. The case centers on Florida’s allegation that Georgia is using an unequal share of the interstate Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system to Florida’s detriment, and asks the Court to step in and equitably apportion the River’s waters between the states. At its core, this long simmering quarrel pits urban and agricultural water consumers in Georgia (particularly the Atlanta Metropolitan Area) against Florida fishermen and ecological interest groups, who want to see more water coming downstream for non-consumptive uses. Currently, the case is before a Special Master, who will make recommendations to the Supreme Court as to how the dispute ought to be resolved.

The Clinics’ clients in this dispute include the National Audubon Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Florida Wildlife Federation, and Apalachicola Riverkeeper. These groups want to see more water coming downstream into Florida to feed the incredibly ecologically diverse Apalachicola River Basin and Bay, which represents one of the most unspoiled river systems left in the United States. In recent decades, however, this ecosystem has suffered from the lack of water flowing through the river system.

In order to warrant equitable apportionment, Florida must prove that Georgia’s use of the water upstream is a cause of real and substantial injury to Florida’s interests. In assessing whether Florida has met its burden of proof, our clients argue that the Special Master and the Court must assess not only economic injuries to Florida fishermen and other river users, but also ecological injuries occurring throughout the Apalachicola River Basin and Bay. We hope our amicus brief to the Court makes clear that Georgia’s unchecked use of the river system has resulted in substantial ecological injuries to the unique Apalachicola ecosystem and impels the Court to step in to rectify the ongoing harm occurring to this precious resource.

Advanced Clinic student Claudia Antonacci (JD ’17) helped draft the brief.

 

Photo credit Chris M. Morris