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Commentary: Its time for Tennessee to volunteer over border, water
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During the 2013 session, the Georgia legislature tackled a variety of issues ranging from the budget to ethics reform. One of the most notable debates revolved around whether Georgia should take action in correcting our northern boundary line along the Tennessee River.

Georgia’s claim to portions of the Tennessee River has resulted in a century’s-old debate that is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. One thing is certain, we surely don’t want future water negotiations to end up becoming an “us” vs. “them” debate. But, it is worth mentioning that Georgia claimed ownership of this disputed territory along the 35th parallel decades ago and deserves to be granted access to the water along the northwest portion of our state.

In the early 2000s, the Tennessee River Authority agreed to allocate a portion of the Tennessee River to Georgia in an effort to make concessions for the inaccurate boundary lines that were drawn along Georgia’s Tennessee Border. Though this gesture was admirable, the state of Tennessee continues to pass laws making it more difficult for Georgia to obtain water from this critical water source and uses the mismarked boundary lines to block access to this important waterway.

To settle this ongoing debate, the General Assembly determined it was time for Tennessee to enter into water talks. Only then can we work toward a mutually beneficial solution that encourages honest and open discussions about water sharing between our two states.

In order for this to happen, the Georgia legislature adopted a resolution calling upon Tennessee to correct the 200-year-old survey errors along Georgia’s northern border.

House Resolution 4, which passed the General Assembly overwhelmingly, proposes a land settlement that seeks to clarify Georgia’s access to the Tennessee River. If no settlement is reached, the attorney general is directed to sue for the entire area south of the 35th parallel. No doubt, lawsuits are seldom the answers.

While this is a debate that has gained significant momentum, I believe it’s important to maintain our good working relationship with our neighbors to the north as we work toward a formal solution. This is especially critical because on any given day, you can find many Georgians hard at work in or patronizing Tennessee businesses, and vice versa.

The state of Georgia continues to become an economic hub for the Southeast United States. However, a severely limited water supply could cripple dependent businesses, divert economic development opportunities and influence the move of operations to other states.

It is important to keep in mind that this is not just a metro Atlanta problem — this is a statewide problem. Georgia’s population is expected to grow by an additional 4.6 million by the year 2030, and we must be able to supply this growth with the appropriate water resources. A very wise man once said, “The wars of the future will be fought over water, not oil.”

No matter the outcome of Georgia’s proposed land settlement with Tennessee, we must continue to search for alternative water sources and work towards negotiations with our neighboring states. Water is a crucial resource for the many families and businesses that call Georgia home, and we cannot be left high and dry.

Sen. Butch Miller represents District 49 in the Georgia Senate. Contact him at 2420 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville 30504, 678-989-5301; butch.miller@senate.ga.gov.

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