Border war with Tennessee resurfaces in Georgia water bills

Border war with Tennessee resurfaces in Georgia water bills

March 13th, 2011 By Chris Joyner/The Journal-Constitution in News

While waiting for an appeals court to decide the future use of Lake Lanier, Georgia lawmakers continue to seek answers to the state's long-term water needs, including rebooting talks of tapping the Tennessee River.

Bills have been introduced in both chambers to allow water withdrawn from the Tennessee River basin to be piped south, exempting it from state regulations governing transfer of water between river basins. And last week Senate Resolution 228 passed out of the Senate Natural Resource Committee urging the state to study a plan to divert water from Georgia streams feeding into the Tennessee for in-state use.

Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, a longtime supporter of Georgia's disputed rights to the Tennessee River, credits the resurgence of interest to Gov. Nathan Deal's attention to finding new sources of water for North Georgia.

"Gov. Deal truly does understand the importance of water, and I think we will make progress on the issue," he said.

The long-simmering border dispute between Georgia and Tennessee last bubbled over in 2008, when Georgia legislators urged then-Gov. Sonny Perdue to negotiate with Tennessee the true location of the line dividing the two states. The goal was to establish Georgia's claim on a sliver of the river near Georgia's northwest corner. Tennessee officials were not interested in talking about it.

Georgia's disputed claim to water from the Tennessee dates nearly two centuries to a survey that set the boundary between the two states. Georgia partisans say the state line was drawn in error and that the actual line is more than a mile north, capturing a portion of the Tennessee River.

Supporters point to a 2004 Tennessee Valley Authority study that found the river could support a withdrawal of an additional 1 billion gallons a day without affecting existing reservoir levels. But Tennessee officials have shown no willingness to hand Georgia access to a valuable resource it could use in the competition for new industry.

Tisha Calabrese-Benton, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, said the Volunteer State has not been contacted by anyone in Georgia.

"I can tell you, however, that Tennessee is prepared to respond to any specific proposal that may arise in the best interest of the people of Tennessee and in accordance with the law," she said.

For Georgia policymakers, the plan's downsides are outweighed by the fact that the Tennessee River is the closest existing source of large amounts of water to support projected population growth.

Contact Chris Joyner at cjoyner@ajc.com.