Georgia gubernatorial candidate John Oxendine said if he's elected he'll meet with Tennessee's new governor to discuss ways Georgia could gain access to the Tennessee River.
If negotiations fail, he vowed to take his request to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mr. Oxendine, one of seven announced Republican candidates for governor and the state's fire and insurance commissioner, visited Chattanooga on Wednesday and spoke with Times Free Press reporters and editors.
As one of 12 items in his Contract with Georgia, Mr. Oxendine has said he would break ground on new reservoirs in North Georgia. He said Wednesday that the Tennessee River should not be "the key" to Georgia's long-term water plan, but said he hoped it would play "a very important role" in the state's supply.
The Georgia Water Contingency Task Force recently presented recommendations to Gov. Sonny Perdue that didn't mention the Tennessee River.
Tennessee leaders, including Gov. Phil Bredesen, have refused to entertain the idea of allowing their southern neighbor to pump water out of the river.
But Gov. Bredesen is term-limited and can't run again. Seven people -- four Republicans and three Democrats -- are competing for the job.
Mr. Oxendine hopes that, as governor, he might strike a deal with whoever becomes Tennessee's new governor to gain access to the water.
"Let's sit down let's see if we can work this out," he said. "That's my preference."
If that doesn't work, he said, the decision should go to the top rung of the judicial system.
"You simply go to the Supreme Court, lay out the facts and let them put it to bed one way or the other," he said.
Dr. Ken Ellinger, a political science professor at Dalton State College, said Mr. Oxendine might be right.
"Really, the Supreme Court is the only one that can really reach a final, conclusive decision on a dispute over water when it involves state boundaries," he said.
A dispute between states does not have to work through the appeals process but can go directly to the nation's highest court, he explained.
The only catch is that the decision would come on the court's timetable if it decided to hear the case at all, he said.
"It's not a slam dunk that the Supreme Court would even hear the case," Dr. Ellinger said.