Sonny Perdue and John Brock
Tennessee lawmakers roundtable
Georgia lawmakers roundtable
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and state water advisers told members of the Georgia Water Contingency Planning Task Force on Friday that water transfers — including one proposed from the Tennessee River — are a last resort of alternatives to help the thirsty Peach State solve its water crisis.
Instead, three words surfaced in the plan over and over: Conservation, capture and control.
“And at the end of it, it’s all about conservation, capture and control,” said John Brock, co-chairman of the water task force and chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola.
“Conservation shouldn’t be a word of sacrifice; it really should be a word of honor,” Gov. Perdue said.
The governor told the group and reporters that he hopes data in the draft plan will help him next week when he meets to negotiate for Georgia’s continued use of Lake Lanier for drinking water.
The Georgia task force is charged with developing a “fact-based action plan” for the state to use if a federal judge’s ruling stands and most of Atlanta is weaned off Lake Lanier water by 2012.
The governor and his advisers have concluded that, even with the most aggressive plan the state can follow, the water gap cannot be reached if Georgia actually loses the use of Lake Lanier.
For that reason, the action plan also includes options for 2015 and 2020, and the governor hopes to have the time extended.
But in a news conference after the task force meeting, Gov. Perdue tried to reassure Georgians.
“We will do what it takes to get water supply — from desalination to transfers from wherever,” he said. “Those (desalinization and transfers) are obviously at the bottom of any kind of list, but you won’t be turning your tap on in Georgia and no water come out.”
Reauthorizing the use of Lake Lanier, Gov. Perdue said, is the state’s best hope, and the data gathered in the contingency plan strips away the emotion of the debate and considers facts such as the physics of water.
“It flows downhill and not uphill,” he said.
At 1,010 feet above sea level, Atlanta’s elevation is among the highest of major cities in the United States, and it is considerably higher than the elevation of the Tennessee River at Nickajack Cove in Marion County, an area some state officials have suggested as a point to withdraw water in what became known as “the border war.”
Georgia officials have said the state line should be redrawn at the 35th latitude, where Congress established it in 1796, giving the state access to the river at Nickajack Cove. Surveyors with the rudimentary instruments of the early 1800s misidentified the line, the officials said.
Tennessee officials have said there’s no way they’re redrawing the state line.
One consideration in drafting the water action plan was a Tennessee River withdrawal, estimated to cost $2.2 billion in capital expenses and $98 million in annual operating costs. Georgia officials also estimated four to five years of pre-construction work and the same to build a pump and pipeline.
Mr. Brock said the Tennessee River transfer option didn’t make the cut in the draft contingency plans for 2012, 2015 and 2020 because it is literally and figuratively an uphill battle.
“It’s incredibly long and drawn out and complex and would require lots of authorization and lots of political discussions,” he said. “And probably be very expensive.”
Both men told the audience attending the task force meeting that, even using the least expensive options to help Georgia, water will cost more in the state, perhaps as much as 93 percent more at the wholesale level and up to 54 percent more at the retail level.
Earlier this week, Sen. Don Thomas, R-Dalton, said Georgia needs help and the federal government is going to have to get involved.
“Our state can’t die because of lack of water, and I think at some point Congress and the feds and courts are going to have to act to help us,” he said. “It’s not going to hurt Tennessee one bit to take some water out” of the Tennessee River.
State Sen. Dewayne Bunch, R-Cleveland, said Tennessee should not have to pay the price for Georgia’s failure to plan for its growth and water needs.
“They really haven’t done a good job planning in Atlanta,” he said. “This is an issue they knew was coming. I don’t see us sitting down and negotiating with them. That’s not realistic.”
Rep. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, said the Tennessee River is the state’s most precious resource and that giving away its water is “not negotiable.”
Editors Alison Gerber and Judy Walton contributed to this story.
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...