The latest battle in the decades old water wars between Georgia and Florida goes to Florida after the Supreme Court decided to send the case back to “special master” judge Ralph Lancaster Jr. for further deliberation. Lancaster’s original report recommended the high court dismiss Florida’s complaint outright.

The Gist: The Supreme Court found that Lancaster’s standard was “too strict” when he concluded that Florida could not demonstrate that a Supreme Court decree would provide a remedy to Florida’s water woes. The court decision also points to several assumptions Lancaster made that may need more supporting evidence now that the case has been remanded. The decision will mean a longer legal battle for both states, but no immediate changes to either state’s water usage.

What’s Next?: The court directed Lancaster to address “several evidentiary questions that are assumed or found plausible” before the court can rule on the case. This means the fact-finding and the legal wrangling will continue as the special master looks deeper into the water issue.

What are the assumptions?: The court requested more evidence for three key assumptions made in the Lancaster report.

  • The report assumes Florida has suffered harm as a result of decreased water flow.
  • The report assumes Florida has shown that Georgia has taken too much water from the Flint River.
  • The report assumes Georgia’s inequitable use of the water has injured Florida.

What was the breakdown of the court: Justices Breyer, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsburg and Sotomayer formed the majority opinion, ruling in favor of sending the case back to the special master. Justices Thomas, Alito, Kagan and Gorsuch delivered the dissenting opinion.

What is the issue: The water wars have been raging for 30 years. At issue is the flow of water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, which is a shared resource between the two states. Florida contends that Georgia uses more than its fair share of water and is fighting for a cap on Georgia’s water use from the basin. Florida officials believe the cap would allow more water to flow downstream to Florida.

Georgia contends the state is not using more than its fair share of water and that a cap on water consumption would not translate to a significant increase in water to Florida.

What does Georgia’s Governor say?: Nathan Deal says he is confident that Georgia’s findings and legal defense in the matter are strong enough to carry the case through another round.

“Though the Court remanded this case back to the Special Master following a five-week trial, during which the ineffectiveness of draconian caps placed on Georgia’s water use as a solution was demonstrated, I remain confident in the state’s legal position.”

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal

What does Florida’s Governor say?: Florida Gov. Rick Scott hailed the court decision as a victory for his state.

“Today’s ruling is a huge win for the entire state of Florida. For nearly thirty years and under five governors, Florida has been fighting for its fair share of water from Georgia.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott