Georgia to study pumping water from Tennessee creeks

Georgia to study pumping water from Tennessee creeks

March 24th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

A former Rossville limestone quarry, owned by Leonard Nixon, holds more than three billion gallons of water.

Georgia legislators moved this week to explore plans to pump water from four creeks in Northwest Georgia toward the Atlanta metro area.

On Wednesday, a state House subcommittee recommended a resolution creating a group to look at pumping water out of Lookout, Chattanooga and South Chickamauga and West Chickamauga creeks for use in Atlanta.

The state Senate passed an identical resolution Tuesday.

Reached by phone, Rep. Harry Geisinger, R-Roswell, a member of the subcommittee, said fellow members supported the resolution and he expects it eventually to pass in the House.

"What we're talking about is a study committee," he said. "We're not talking about legislation that would move heaven and Earth."

He said he supported any measures to study possible water options for the Atlanta metro area.

John Meadows, a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, where the resolution is headed next, said it's important for Tennesseans and others to think regionally. All of the water systems are interconnected "like a puzzle," he said.

"Everybody's got to realize that the people in Atlanta, Ga., can't live without water," he said. "I'm not sure that we can abandon the capital of the South. If Atlanta's got a problem, the whole Southeast has a problem."

The resolution states that the combined flows of the creeks range from 80 million to 130 million gallons per day, all of which dumps into the Tennessee River just across the state line. It specifically mentions a flooded quarry in Walker County as a possible storage location for the creek water.

"It may be possible to withdraw water from such north-flowing tributaries which might otherwise go unused in this state, pump water into such an abandoned quarry for storage, and distribute water from such storage by means of a pipeline to be laid on the railroad right of way and thence to areas of this state in need of additional water supplies," the resolution states.

Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation have said the agency has not received any request from Georgia but that the department cannot regulate water on streams that are in Georgia.

In 2009, Leonard Nixon, who owns an inundated quarry in Rossville that he says could hold 3 billion gallons of water, pitched the idea of pumping creek water into his quarry to state and local officials. His sales pitch apparently worked because the resolutions to form the study groups on the creeks were sponsored by Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, in the House and Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chicka-mauga, in the Senate.

Attempts to reach Nixon were unsuccessful Wednesday.

Other bills have been introduced that would exempt Tennessee River basin streams from potential water transfer laws and allow for public-private water deals such as the system Nixon has planned.

When the quarry became a hot topic in 2009, state geologist James Kennedy told water planners that pumping water out of quarries and into municipal water supplies was a viable option in some places but the subterranean structure of Northwest Georgia would make some pits better candidates than others.

"You look at each one, and some could be very useful and some could be a disaster," he said.

Meadows said the state already has dammed the Toccoa River in Northeast Georgia, which turns into the Ocoee River at the Georgia/Tennessee state line before running into the Tennessee River. He said he usually is opposed to interbasin water transfers and "wouldn't want to say build that dam 12 feet from Tennessee and turn it all back around," but he would like to see if the state could use some of the northward-flowing streams.

Geisinger said water doesn't obey political boundaries and it shouldn't be thought of that way.

"Gravity takes charge and sends it downhill," he said.