JASPER, Ga. -- The final draft of North Georgia's new water plan calls for the state to "explore opportunities for Georgia to expand use of the Tennessee River as a water supply source."
The plan acknowledges "potential legal issues" that Georgia and Tennessee would have to work out, but also says the authors of the plan "would like future planning efforts to address this alternative water source in more detail."
At a meeting here Wednesday, members of the Coosa-North Georgia Water Planning Council, which was charged in 2009 with developing a water plan, repeated their view that the Tennessee River is a regional resource.
"Where is the most water in the Southeast? It's in the Tennessee River," said John Bennett, Rome city manager and chairman of the water council.
The original draft unveiled in November suggested the state "evaluate potential partnerships in meeting future water supply needs, including sources such as the Tennessee River." The final draft released Wednesday makes a point by adding the clause "which receives a significant flow originating in Georgia."
A new portion of the plan states that "local entities should have access to water contributed to the river from watersheds within North Georgia."
But Tennessee officials have never been keen on the idea of Georgia taking water from the Tennessee River. During his gubernatorial run, Gov. Bill Haslam's campaign said he would "protect our state's precious resources and will fight any attempt to ... siphon off our water."
The Tennessee -- and Georgia's access to it -- came up in a discussion about interbasin transfers, the practice of pumping fresh water from one river basin to another. One problem with such transfers is that once the water is used, it is discharged into the receiving basin rather than sent back to the originating basin.
Council member Jerry Jennings, of Rome, Ga., suggested that the plan should encourage or require utility companies to consider returning water to its original basin.
Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn advised against that provision, saying such a requirement would eliminate the possibility of long-distance transfers such as one from the Tennessee basin to Marietta, Ga. The expense of returning the water would make it impractical and is a needless expense because "the Tennessee River won't miss it," he said.
Mark Marlowe, representing Dalton Utilities, cautioned the group against any transfers that would put the Tennessee River off limits.
"You're shooting your own foot off," Marlowe said.
The rest of the plan requires and mandates few changes for the region, but urges and encourages cities and residents to consider many conservation options. The plan suggests ways to recycle gray water for use on golf courses, encourages property owners to consider rain sensors on their sprinkler systems and says utilities and state and local governments should look into new regional reservoirs and progressively higher prices on excessive water use.
The council plans to seek public comment in May or June and have the plan ready for approval in late summer or early fall.