Georgia lawmakers eye Tennessee water again

Georgia lawmakers eye Tennessee water again

February 11th, 2013 by Lindsay Burkholder in Local Regional News

Nickajack Cove is seen from Sand Mountain. Some Georgia lawmakers are renewing an attempted to move a bit of the state line north by a little over a mile so Georgia could tap into the Tennessee River.

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Atlanta be allowed to take water from the Tennessee River?

Georgia state lawmakers are once again contesting their border with Tennessee in an effort to siphon Tennessee water across the state line.

The Georgia General Assembly began work on a resolution earlier this month which, if passed, would lead to a proposal to Tennessee government: You give us access to the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake, and we'll acknowledge the current boundary as the official border.

Tennessee lawmakers are dismissive of the latest ploy in Georgia's ongoing quest to tap into the river.

"I don't think anyone's taking it seriously," said Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

But for Georgians, it's a matter of honor. The current boundary does not reflect the line agreed upon in 1818 when Georgia handed over the territory to the federal government, a line which would have given Georgia rights to the river.

"There's no question that the grant from the state of Georgia to the U.S. government was clearly stated as the 35th parallel," said Georgia state Sen. Charlie Bethel, R-Dalton, "and there's no question that what is currently identified as the state line is not the 35th parallel."

Why dispute a line that's almost two hundred years old? The answer lies in Georgia's ongoing water woes. As metropolitan Atlanta's population continues to grow, so does its demand for water.

"There's literally not enough water, no matter how much you conserve," said Bethel. "We're going to have to secure more water."

While there have been initiatives to build reservoirs and conserve rainwater, many believe the best answer lies in the waters of the Tennessee River.

"It would be a big help to the Georgia water problem," said Georgia state Rep. John Deffenbaugh, R-Lookout Mountain, whose Dade County district sits right on the part of the line most in question.

Georgia has submitted proposals like this before, but with one key difference. They wanted the original state line to be honored in full. This new resolution would allow for a mile and half long strip that follows the 35th parallel, just enough for access to the river. The line would then return to the current boundary.

But McCormick doesn't foresee the boundary being moved at all.

"We don't intend to move our state line to make Georgia have easier access to water," he said.

The Tennessee Valley Authority, which owns the tract of land in question, is awaiting the states' decisions before it becomes involved, according to TVA spokeswoman Gail Rymer.

"We're aware of the recent action taken by the Georgia General Assembly. As this is an issue between Georgia and Tennessee, we will continue to monitor the discussion between the states as this moves forward," she said.