Water wars rage in Apalachicola

Sen. Bill Nelson, left and Sen. Marco Rubio listen to testimony from the Army Corps of Engineers Photo available for purchase

Sen. Bill Nelson, left and Sen. Marco Rubio listen to testimony from the Army Corps of Engineers

Published: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 01:19 PM.

A crew of Florida ’s most powerful politicians gathered at the water’s edge Tuesday in Apalachicola and brought out the heavy artillery in the state’s long simmering water wars with Georgia and Alabama .

The unusual visit by Governor Rick Scott, and both U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, in the small coastal town came less than a day after the state received the go-ahead on the request for a commercial fishery failure it first sought nearly a year ago. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker on Monday declared a failure for the oyster fishery along the entire west coast of Florida , which is primarily centered in Apalachicola Bay .

Nelson, a Democrat, and Rubio, the Republican junior senator, sat side by side before a packed audience in the courthouse annex as they conducted a rare Senate subcommittee field hearing on the adverse effects that diminished river flows have had on the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay .

The buzz that followed the two-hour hearing - in which both the Army Corps of Engineers’ water management policies and the ever-increasing water consumption by users upriver drew a hefty share of harsh criticism - was still in the air at lunchtime when Scott announced at the riverfront that Florida plans to file suit next month in the U.S. Supreme Court to halt Georgia’s “unchecked and growing consumption of water.”

Scott, flanked by Rubio and Cong. Steve Southerland ( R-Panama City ), said negotiations with Georgia officials have proved fruitless. “ Georgia has not negotiated in good faith. They’ve kept our water,” he said. “It’s been going on for decades. Now it’s coming to a stop.”

The governor said Alabama has yet to decide whether to join the suit, which seeks injunctive relief against what he called “ Georgia ’s unmitigated and unsustainable upstream consumption of water from the Chattahoochee and Flint River Basins .

“This lawsuit will be targeted toward one thing - fighting for the future of Apalachicola . This is a bold, historic legal action for our state,” Scott said. “But this is our only way forward after 20 years of failed negotiations with Georgia . We must fight for the people of this region. The economic future of Apalachicola Bay and Northwest Florida is at stake.”

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