updated 3/23/2004 11:30:51 AM ET 2004-03-23T16:30:51

The Supreme Court, sidestepping a major decision on the government’s power to regulate clean water, told a Florida court Tuesday to reconsider a pollution dispute involving the Everglades.

The ruling extends a six-year fight between the 500-member Miccosukee Indian tribe and a water district the Indians accuse of illegally dumping pollutants into Florida’s Everglades.

The South Florida Water Management District’s pump west of Fort Lauderdale dumps as much as 423,000 gallons a minute of polluted runoff from suburban lawns, farms and industrial yards into the Everglades, including 189,000 acres the state leased to the tribe and promised to keep in its natural state.

The district was sued in 1998 by the Miccosukees and Friends of the Everglades under the federal Clean Water Act.

At issue was whether the district should be required to get permits for water pump facilities.

Road map to the Supreme CourtDistrict officials contend that they are only moving water that already has pollutants, protecting nearby areas from flooding, and didn’t need special permits. The Bush administration, in supporting the district, argued to the Supreme Court that permits were not required when water from one navigable body was channeled into another navigable body of water.

An appeals court had sided with the tribe and ordered the South Florida Water Management District to apply for permits. The Supreme Court on Tuesday voided that decision and ordered the lower court to reconsider the case and take the Bush administration argument into account.

The case had caught the attention of other states. Fourteen states sided with the Miccosukees, while 11 Western states told the court they worried regional water diversion efforts might become subject to expensive federal pollution requirements.

The case returns to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and likely back to federal court in Florida.

The case is South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe, 02-626.

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