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Our Views: Reaching for the river
Georgia makes desperate grab for Tennessee water
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As if Georgia's battles with Alabama and Florida over water weren't enough, the General Assembly has managed to bring a fourth state into the territorial dispute.

Georgia lawmakers in both houses last week approved a plan that seeks to redraw the state's boundary with Tennessee. They claim that the actual state line should be drawn 1.1 miles farther north, along the 35th parallel, and that the current boundary was based on a faulty survey from the past. The bill asks the governor to set up a commission to look into the claim.

Perhaps a case can be made that an adjustment is due. It might be simple enough had such an error been caught in a timely fashion. That's not quite the case here, considering that the survey in question was conducted in 1818.

The other problem is in the clear motivation for the border dispute: Water. Moving the state line a mile to the north would give Georgia access to the mighty Tennessee River as it flows south near the state line. Such a prolific water source, with 15 times the flow of the Chattahoochee that supplies most of metro Atlanta and North Georgia, would be of huge benefit in helping Georgia alleviate dwindling supplies from the ongoing drought.

So Georgia lawmakers decided to roll the dice and see if throwing a penalty flag on a 190-year-old violation might lead to a beneficial solution.

But as you might guess, folks in Tennessee aren't real keen on the idea of handing over a big ol' chunk of their state without a fight.

"That's the silliest thing I've ever seen any group of Republicans do," stormed Tennessee state Sen. Gerald McCormick, himself a Republican from Chattanooga. "I'm embarrassed that they would embarrass the party like that. They're idiots."

Whoa. So much for an amicable settlement. And anyway, where does someone from Tennessee come off calling our legislators "idiots?" Only we Georgians can call our legislators "idiots," thank you very much.

Such harsh rhetoric certainly doesn't bode well for a cooperative approach. This whole thing could turn into a Hatfields vs. McCoys shooting match if cooler heads aren't found.

"Allowing our neighbors to the north to hoard the water in the Tennessee River is simply not an option," said Georgia state Sen. David Shafer, a Duluth Republican who sponsored the measure. But some of his colleagues didn't take the move quite as seriously, singing "This Land is Your Land" during his Senate floor speech.

If Georgia decides to pursue the matter to the bitter end, it likely will end up in the Supreme Court, the venue to settle such interstate disputes. And based on the facts, Georgia might indeed have a legal case for the claim.

Surely, though, the justices will begin by asking the state's representatives why they waited nearly two centuries to bring it up. There certainly has been ample opportunity to resurvey the area and draw the lines correctly in the generations since the error occurred.

The fact that Georgia's obvious and desperate grab at a close but out-of-reach supply of water is at the crux of the matter might hurt its case even more.

Moving the state line at this point in history might solve Georgia's water crisis to a degree, yet create a whole bunch of new problems. What about the people and businesses located in that one-mile swath of land? Should they be made to become residents in a different state overnight? Imagine the headache it could cause them. It also could cause legislative maps to change in both states, especially high-population areas around Chattanooga that may become part of the new Georgia.

Anyway, it's not the land Georgia needs but the water. So instead of reaching out to try and take something that isn't really ours, why don't we just try to make a deal for the water instead?

It starts with Georgia's governor calling Tennessee's governor and asking to negotiate for water rights out of the river. The response likely will be "no," followed by "what's it worth to you?" Thus begins the bargaining for Tennessee water. It'll cost us, but it probably should.

Anyway, taking the border case to the Supreme Court won't come cheap for either state. It's possible that's what Georgia is counting on, that the threat of a lengthy court case and possible ruling in its favor might force Tennessee to negotiate for water rights. If so, that would make the border issue irrelevant.

But if Georgia does succeed with its border claim, why stop there? With the drought taking a big bite out of Lake Lanier tourism, we could make a push to annex Dollywood. Or with big fish dying off with alarming frequency at the Georgia Aquarium, the state could make a play for Chattanooga's own elegant fish tank by the banks of the river.

Of course, few Georgians would want to add Knoxville or Nashville to the state's land mass. That would sap all the joy out of the Bulldogs' rivalries with the Tennessee Vols and Vandy Commodores. Besides, no one in this state would be caught dead wearing orange, unless they're out deer hunting.

And stay tuned just in case the legislature next decides to look south at the border with Florida. Maybe if Georgia could grab that stretch of the panhandle from the Apalachicola River to the Gulf, we could take care of those pesky mussels once and for all.