On February 14, 2017 Ralph Lancaster, the Special Master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court to oversee the Georgia-Florida “Water Wars” dispute, ruled in Georgia’s favor. The case stems from years of legal disputes between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. This particular case involved Florida suing Georgia via the Supreme Court and requesting Georgia cap its water consumption from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin at levels predetermined by Florida.
Cotton is the largest row crop in Georgia with annual farm revenue exceeding $826 million and a total economic contribution of $1.6 billion to Georgia’s economy. The ACF Basin is home to almost half of all cotton production in Georgia. The Georgia cotton industry – farmers, ginners, cottonseed handlers, warehousers, merchants, cooperatives, and manufacturers – are pleased with Lancaster’s recommendation to the Supreme Court. In his recommendation to the Supreme Court to deny Florida’s request for a consumption cap on Georgia water withdrawals, Lancaster concludes that “Florida has not proven by clear and convincing evidence that any additional streamflow in the Flint River resulting from a decree imposing a consumptive cap on Georgia’s water use would be released from the Jim Woodruff Dam into the [Apalachicola] River at a time that would provide a material benefit to Florida.”
The Georgia cotton industry joined together with the peanut and vegetable industries to submit a “Friend of the Court” brief on behalf of the farmers of Georgia. This brief explained the significance of Georgia agriculture and the importance of irrigation to Georgia farmers. Any water withdrawal cap would be detrimental to Georgia agriculture.
Cotton leadership across Georgia was pleased to hear of the news. Jimmy Webb, a Calhoun County cotton farmer in the middle of the ACF Basin, said that “we are thankful for the decision of the Special Master. Our ability to irrigate our crops is one of the main reasons we have been a successful and sustainable farm.” Webb serves on the UGA-CAES Dean’s Advisory Council and The Cotton Board.
Bart Davis, who farms cotton in Worth and Colquitt Counties, also part of the ACF Basin, said that “farming is the lifeblood of our community, almost everybody that lives here works in production agriculture. If we can’t irrigate when the crops need it, this whole community would just dry up.” Davis serves on the boards of Southern Cotton Growers and Cotton Incorporated.
Matt Coley, a cotton farmer and ginner from Dooly County, which is on the edge of the ACF Basin, said that “we make our living off of the land and being good stewards of the land. Farmers had the most to lose in the case, and we still do if any future cases are brought forward.” Coley serves as a director on the American Cotton Producers of the National Cotton Council and the Georgia Cotton Commission.
Andy Borem, President/CEO of Chickasha of Georgia, a cottonseed handler, said that “we’ve been watching this case closely because we knew that our growers would be crippled if the government imposed new restrictions on the amount of water farmers could use for irrigation.” Borem serves on the Board of Directors of the National Cotton Council and is the President of the National Cottonseed Products Association.