GSI helps Georgia win Supreme Court Case

In early 2015, Florida had asked the Supreme Court to set consumption caps on Georgia’s water use in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin to 1992 levels claiming that Georgia’s use of water in the ACF River Basin was causing harm to Florida. Attorneys for Georgia, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, retained GSI Environmental Inc. (GSI) to provide expert opinions regarding impacts of Georgia’s groundwater extractions on surface water flow in the ACF River Basin.

The ACF River Basin has faced the most severe, multi-year droughts in recent years, including 2000-2002, 2006-2007, and 2010-2012. Agricultural irrigation in Georgia had increased significantly since the early 1970s, with most of the increases occurring from the mid-1970s through the late-1990s. Also, flow in the ACF River has declined in recent years, and Florida’s oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay was declared a disaster in 2012.

GSI provided support to Georgia in this case by delineating the impact of pumping within the Lower ACF River Basin from weather-related impacts to flow at the Florida-Georgia Stateline. Dr. Sorab Panday, Principal at GSI, was a testifying expert for evaluating how groundwater pumping caused reductions in flow to rivers and streams within the Lower ACF River Basin. GSI evaluated the weather, streamflow, and hydrogeologic data in the Lower ACF River Basin and modeled the impact of groundwater pumping on unimpaired flows (UIFs) to the rivers and streams. The UIFs for various pumping and non-pumping cases were also provided to the surface-water testifying expert, for calculations that evaluated flow into Florida considering storage in reservoirs and operations of dams within the ACF River Basin regulated by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).

The Special Master then appointed by the Supreme Court, Ralph Lancaster, Jr., advised rejection of Florida's claims of equitable apportionment against Georgia citing that he could not grant Florida's request because the USACE was not a party to the case. Also, Florida failed to show how a water-use cap would provide the relief the State was seeking.

The Court however held that Special Master Lancaster had applied too strict a redressability standard and appointed another Special Master, Paul J. Kelly, Jr., with instructions to make findings on specific questions. Special Master Kelly also recommended denying Florida’s request for a decree because it had not proved the elements necessary to obtain relief.

On April 1, 2021, the Supreme Court unanimously sided with Georgia. The Court unanimously agreed with the Special Master Kelly’s recommendation to deny Florida relief for several independent reasons, including that Florida proved no serious injury caused by Georgia’s alleged overconsumption. The opinion of the Court can be found at the following link: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/20pdf/22o142_m648.pdf.