Georgia and water, again

Georgia and water, again

February 20th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Tennessee officials and residents who thought Georgia had given up its quixotic quest to use water from the Tennessee River to ease Atlanta's documented water woes were overly optimistic. If recent discussion in the Georgia House is any indication, Peach State legislators, or at least some them, still covet the water and access to it. The state's previous schemes to hijack Tennessee River water proved uniformly unsuccessful. The latest attempt deserves the same fate.

Last week, Rep. Jay Neal, R-LaFayette, asked a House subcommittee to support legislation to make it legal to capture water in Georgia that flows across the state's border into the Tennessee River, collect and store it in abandoned rock quarries and then transport it to Atlanta through a yet-to-be-built pipeline. It's a bizarre plan that fails muster.

Being far-fetched, though, is not necessarily a deterrent for legislators who admit the state has a water problem, but don't have the gumption to build the infrastructure and expedite the conservation measures that would help resolve the problem. Instead, they look to the north. Last year, a resolution asking for a study of the pipeline did pass the House. Fortunately, the state Senate was more realistic. It rejected the request. What this legislative year will bring is anybody's guess.

The pipeline idea is a nonstarter. It would be costly -- estimates go up to $2 billion. It would be an environmental disaster, adversely affecting ecosystems where the water would be gathered and certainly scarring the landscape where the pipeline would be built. Moreover, the pipeline fails the money test. The state could get more water at less cost through improved conservation measures. Legislators are reluctant to acknowledge the latter.

Instead of implementing strong but equitable plans to conserve and preserve available water, to protect the environment and to expand regional reservoir systems, Georgia officials seem intent on creating a diversion by again raising the possibility of taking water from the Tennessee River. That's nothing more than wishful thinking.

Earlier efforts along those lines -- former Gov. Sonny Perdue's threat to sue for access to the river or his doomed attempt to shift the Tennessee-Georgia border far enough north to put part of the river within Georgia -- came to nothing. The latest effort faces the same fate.

Still, Tennessee leaders, who last week reiterated their opposition to any plan that would take water from the state, should be concerned by talk about the Tennessee River emanating from Atlanta. They should be ready to rebuff any action from Georgia. When it comes to protecting water rights, it is far better to be prepared to protect a vital asset and not need to act, than to need to act and not be ready to do so.