Governor Nathan Deal responded firmly Wednesday to news that Florida officials plan to file a lawsuit in the ongoing water dispute between the states.
Georgia, Florida and Alabama have been squabbling for decades over how much water each is entitled to from their shared river networks. Florida officials insist increased water usage by Georgia has negatively impacted the Apalachicola River and Bay.
Florida Governor Rick Scott announced Tuesday that he would file a lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court, saying negotiations had failed. Deal, however, insisted Georgia haS continued to try to resolve the issue with the sunshine state.
“We had made an offer and a proposal about a year ago and suddenly it went silent on the Florida side and we’ve not had any response back to that. We’ve been waiting,” Deal explained.
The Governor said he believes those efforts will have an impact on any legal proceedings because they demonstrate Georgia’s willingness to find a resolution without the courts.
“It’s regrettable,” Deal said of the lawsuit. “I still stand ready to talk with him and with his team as we have done in the past. We felt like we were making significant progress. Governor Scott had expressed to me early on that he felt like this was an issue that should be resolved by negotiation and not by litigation. I would hope that he would return to that point of view.”
Deal hinted that Scott’s sudden announcement could be politically motivated.
“I hope that this is not politics. I hope that it is something beyond just the mere fact that we are approaching an election season,” Deal said. “We will not roll over. If Florida wants to fight, we’ll fight.”
The Apalachicola Riverkeeper, however, said a political battle will not help the struggling bay, which was part of the area the U.S. Secretary of Commerce declared a commercial fishery failure earlier this week because of a decline in the number of oysters there.
“I don’t think the Governors are going to be able to get together in their current framework that’s set up,” said Riverkeeper Dan Tonsmeire. “The politicians seem to be playing the game full out without regard to the folks that are being most impacted regardless of what state you’re in.”
Tonsmeire said the recent droughts have impacted the Apalachicola Bay both environmentally and economically. Despite above average rainfall this summer, he said the bay has experienced a delayed reaction to the droughts in 2011 and 2012.
“Our seafood industry, our eco-tourism industry, our second home industry is all impacted by the health of the river and the bay in our portion of the basin. So, it’s not just one part of the economy, it’s our entire economy,” Tonsmeire stressed.