Georgia governors open to water talks; Tennessee not so much

Georgia governors open to water talks; Tennessee not so much

October 29th, 2010 by Andy Johns in News

One thing is certain after Tuesday's elections: Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida all will have new governors since none of the current governors are running.

What's not certain is how the new governors will shape Georgia's ongoing water wars with Alabama and Florida or whether the new Peach State leader will look across the border to the Tennessee River as a source of water.

In Georgia's gubernatorial race, Democrat and former governor Roy Barnes is facing Republican former congressman Nathan Deal. In Tennessee, Republican and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam is facing Democratic businessman Mike McWherter.

Barnes' spokesman Emil Runge said the former governor would "make sure that all citizens of Georgia have access to safe, clean, reliable water sources," but he was not sure of the feasibility of tapping the Tennessee River.

"He looks forward to building a good relationship with the Tennessee governor to discuss how the states can work together on many issues, including economic development, regional transportation and natural resources," Runge said in an e-mailed statement.

Deal also said that tapping into the Tennessee is not a good idea.

"Wholesale interbasin transfers are not the solution," he said in a written statement, referring to the process of taking water out of one river system and moving it to another.

In the statement, Deal also said he wouldn't rule out "working cooperatively" with the new Tennessee governor on the issue, but he would first work out the water war with Alabama and Florida.

In Alabama's gubernatorial race, Republican Robert J. Bentley faces Democrat Ron Sparks. In Florida, Democratic hopeful Alex Sink will square off against GOP candidate Rick Scott.

For more than 20 years, Georgia, Alabama and Florida have disputed standards for quality and quantity of water in streams that cross all three states' lines.

Adding Tennessee to that mix is a bad plan, Deal said.

"Turning a tri-state water war into a quad-state water war will only make things more complicated," he said.

Tennessee's Haslam made it clear that he is looking to have open channels of communication with his southern neighbor about water issues, but his state is the priority.

Haslam spokesman Dave Smith said in a statement that his candidate vows to "protect our state's precious resources and will fight any attempt to move our border ... or to siphon off our water."

"(Haslam) looks forward to having a positive working relationship with neighboring states," Smith said in the statement. "But first and foremost he will protect the interests of Tennessee and certainly will not be giving away our resources."

In an e-mailed statement, McWherter said he can "sympathize" with Georgia's water problems but "would be hesitant to enter any deal that could drastically alter the characteristics of our state's water networks."

He took a slightly softer line than Haslam, saying he would "balk at any legislation providing Georgia unrestricted access" to Tennessee water to solve the Peach State's "self-inflicted problems."

When dealing with Atlanta's water problems, both Deal and Barnes say conservation methods and new reservoirs will be part of the solution. They both said the state fails to capture much of the rain and spring water that runs through its streams into other states.

"Atlanta does not have a supply problem. They have a storage problem," wrote Runge, from Barnes' campaign.