More than three-quarters of Georgia, from north of Atlanta down to the Florida line, is experiencing abnormally dry to extreme-drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Alabama is also dry, but better off overall.
Of course, Georgia’s water problems are well known, so rather than repeat them, it is sufficient to say that if metro Atlanta does not find a dependable source of water for its businesses and neighborhoods, growth in that region will slow and, in some cases, cease.
One of the water sources thirsty Georgians covet is the Tennessee River, so much so that some legislators have proposed going to court to get the state line moved so that the stream would flow through their state. More realistically, there has been talk of a pipeline running from the river down into Georgia, but water transfer is a complicated matter, and besides, Tennessee has no interest in sharing.
In the most recent gubernatorial campaign, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam vowed to “fight any attempt to … siphon off our water.” Everyone knew what he was talking about.
Now, however, some Georgia officials think they might have something to offer Tennessee in return — improved transportation between Chattanooga and Atlanta and Savannah.
In a recent radio interview, the speaker of the Georgia General Assembly, Republican David Ralston of Blue Ridge, suggested that it might be time for officials in the two states to sit down and discuss the possibility of Georgia improving rail, roads and other transportation links from Tennessee to the Atlanta airport and the seaports on the Georgia coast.
In return, landlocked Tennessee would let Georgia pump water from its river.
It is, as the speaker noted, “a big idea,” and the financial and federal roadblocks are many.
Count certain officials in north Alabama as opponents of this plan, as they well should be since the Tennessee River is vital to areas such as Florence. Any Georgia proposal to touch the Tennessee River has to include north Alabama’s interests at the negotiating table.
“What Georgia is wanting to do is a huge threat to the Tennessee River,” state Sen. Tammy Irons, D-Florence, told the Florence TimesDaily. “If we allow Georgia to begin draining from the Tennessee River, it would stifle economic development in north Alabama. It would also devastate recreation and tourism along the river.”
Additionally, it’s worth noting that a spokesman for Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal told the Florence paper, “We have no plans to begin taking water from the Tennessee River. None, whatsoever.”
Unfortunately, water has become a regional issue and it requires regional solutions. The water-for-transportation idea may never get off the ground, but it should remind us all that thinking outside the box is not a bad approach. That’s where the answers may be found.