Georgia-Florida water fight now in hands of mediator

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A monthlong trial aimed at settling a high-stakes water dispute between Georgia and Florida ended Thursday with a special master imploring both sides to negotiate a settlement.

Special master Ralph Lancaster reminded both parties that there’s much to be lost by booming metropolitan Atlanta or by residents of tiny Apalachicola, Florida.

“Please settle this blasted thing,” Lancaster said. “I can guarantee you that at least one of you is going to be unhappy with my recommendation — and perhaps both of you.”

Florida blames the booming Atlanta metropolitan area and agriculture in Georgia for causing low river flows that have imperiled fisheries in Apalachicola Bay. Georgia contends there’s not enough evidence to support drastic action that could imperil the state’s economy.

The lawsuit played out for a month with dozens of witnesses and hundreds of exhibits in Portland, Maine’s largest city, more than 1,000 miles from the disputed watershed.

Lancaster was appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to make a recommendation to resolve the matter. The Supreme Court will have the final say in the coming year.

The dispute focuses on a watershed in western Georgia, eastern Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers flow through Georgia and meet at the Florida border to form the Apalachicola River, which flows into the Apalachicola Bay.