On Nov. 3, the U.S. Supreme Court granted the state of Florida’s motion to allow the equitable apportionment water sharing lawsuit against Georgia to move forward. Florida alleges that Georgia uses too much water in the Chattahoochee and Flint River basins without returning enough water for downstream use by Florida in the Apalachicola Bay.
We do have strong arguments for why the U.S. Supreme Court should not move forward with the litigation, particularly since almost 70 percent of the water used by metro Atlanta is returned to the river for downstream use. However, we need to move forward with efforts to secure additional water resources no matter the eventual outcome.
There are demand-side and supply-side solutions.
On the demand side, Georgia has made great strides. With passage of the Georgia Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan of 2008 during the last great drought and the more recent Georgia Water Stewardship Act of 2010, Georgia now has some of the most stringent water conservation efforts in the Southeast. Our per capita water has been significantly reduced.
However, demand side solutions alone will not be enough for us to continue to attract economic development and jobs to our region. We must have additional supply. Interbasin transfers of water are the way that most major cities in the U.S. have enough water supply.
The only interbasin transfer that makes sense for Atlanta is one from the enormous Tennessee River. It would significantly help Florida (and Alabama) as well. The state of Florida has publicly called for Georgia to augment the Chattahoochee River and the very best way to do so is from the Tennessee.
Environmentally, the actual effect on the river would be minimal.
In fact, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s 2004 Environmental Impact Statement found that interbasin transfers of more than 1 billion gallons a day would not significantly affect reservoir levels. Just half of that daily excess would completely meet all of metro Atlanta’s water needs for the next 100 years.
Georgia has been disputing its border with Tennessee since 1818, when a survey improperly set the line one mile south of the mutually agreed upon border at the 35th parallel. Georgia never accepted the survey, but Tennessee did.
Tennessee has since rebuffed or ignored 10 different attempts by Georgia to solve the issue. In 2013, the Georgia General Assembly passed House Resolution 4, a good faith effort designed to avoid litigation. This proposal would grant Georgia rights to the Tennessee River by moving the border only at the Nickajack reservoir and recognizing the remainder of the flawed survey as the official boundary.
Contrary to armchair legal scholars who dismiss our case, there is a litany of legal justification for Georgia’s claim, should it come to litigation. Whether we negotiate a deal or litigate, asserting our historic riparian rights to the mighty Tennessee would help prevent chronic flooding in the Tennessee River valley and provide extra water to Georgia, Alabama and Florida downstream of Atlanta. This is truly a regional solution to the Southeast’s water troubles.
Let’s solve this problem together and leave the battles for the football field.
Brad Carver, 42, is a partner and senior managing director of Government Affairs with the law firm of Hall Booth Smith, P.C. and is a major in the United States Army Reserves. He, his wife, Michelle, and their two boys live in North Buckhead where Michelle is on the Board of the North Buckhead Civic Association.