Whenever the talk in Georgia turns to the availability of water in the state, it seems that the Tennessee River is automatically included in the discussion. That was true a couple of years ago when extended drought threatened Atlanta's water supply. It was true again later when a federal court ruled that Atlanta and the surrounding metropolitan area had little right to tap into Lake Lanier for water. And it was true this week when members of the Coosa-North Georgia Water Planning Council in Rome included the possibility of transferring water from the river for use in Georgia as part of a regional plan.
When completed, the regional plan will become part of Georgia's first statewide, comprehensive plan to meet future water demands through planning, conservation and stewardship of the environment. The goal is admirable, but developing a viable water plan will be difficult given the state's available resources and growing demand. Once the plan is approved, adhering to it could pose problems - especially for those who prefer an easy way out rather than engaging in the hard work such a plan would require.
That's why it is important not to overlook one of the recommendations quietly included in a presentation at the Rome council meeting on Wednesday. It said the group would address an "appropriate role for interbasin transfer" including the Tennessee River. In other words, tapping the bountiful Tennessee River near Chattanooga to supply water for Georgia remains on the agenda. That's a reminder, if not a warning, to Tennessee officials. They should be prepared for renewed challenges about the legality of the state border that separates the state - and the river - from its neighbor to the south.
The Atlanta metropolitan area's need for water is well known. Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin admitted as much in a talk here a while back. She told the audience that she coveted Chattanooga's access to the Tennessee River. The remark was accompanied by a smile and drew a laugh, but it was far more than a jest.
Georgia's demand for more water than is readily available is not limited to the Atlanta area. Other areas of the state have similar needs. Gov. Sonny Perdue has addressed the issue on various fronts. He's been involved in lawsuits with Alabama and Florida about water. He's promoted various conservation programs and urged more long-range planning to conserve and preserve water and watershed. He's the driving force, in fact, behind the current effort finally to develop a long-term solution to the water issue rather than to continue to rely on short-sighted and stopgap methods to ameliorate the problem.
That doesn't mean, though, that he or anyone else in Georgia concerned about possible water shortages has forgotten the Tennessee River and its copious supply of water. History suggests otherwise. Though the governor hasn't mentioned the river lately, it likely has not been forgotten. How could it be?
Perdue has said that he considers the river a possible source of water. He also hired lawyers to see if it was feasible to sue Tennessee and the Tennessee Valley Authority for access to the river. Nothing has come of that endeavor so far, but there's always the possibility that a similar effort by either Perdue or his successor to be elected in November could occur.
The Coosa-North Georgia Water Planning Council tacitly acknowledged that when it included a phrase about the possible role of water from the Tennessee River to cover projected shortfalls from the creeks and rivers that currently supply Northwest Georgia residents. The region and the state would be better served by officials who give up the dream of obtaining water from the Tennessee River and instead craft plans to build infrastructure and develop policies to ease the threat to an increasingly scarce natural resource.