And you thought water wars were just a plot device for old Westerns? Think again. There is present day state border dispute over — you guessed it — water rights.
Georgia asserts it right to water flowing in Tennessee, and some Tennessee volunteers are talking about getting their rifles. The Georgia legislature has proposed a bill to review the boundary between the two states, on the theory that the man who surveyed that boundary 200 years ago got it wrong.
At issue: access to the water flowing in the Tennessee River—which would run through part of Georgia if Georgia got its way. Georgia says that Congress set the border at the 35th parallel and that an 1818 survey misplaced that line by a mile. Tennessee says that the country can't run around trying to correct every borderline that was surveyed with old equipment and old maps; it would be too disruptive. "If they take this too far, there'll be neighbors shooting everyone all the time," said Barton Crattie, a Georgia land surveyor who resurrected the dispute in a newspaper editorial. He intended just to point out an odd historical footnote; he had no idea the Georgia legislature would try to actually go after the land lying between it and the river.
The dispute would be humorous if not for the seriousness of the underlying problem: water shortages. North Georgia's drought is so severe that some of the state's lawmakers are willing to try to grab land that has been, for all practical matters, a part of a neighboring state for some 200 years. In addition to opposing the outrage of a land grab, critics of Georgia's proposed legislation point out that the state would do better to turn its energies toward water conservation.
There is justifiable resentment that Georgia allowed rampant sprawl (Atlanta is notorious for its sprawl and resultant urban ills), and now wants innocent others to underwrite its excess. And therein lies a warning for the rest of us. We are too used to having all the water we want right at our fingertips and taking it for granted. The realities of drought and shortages are a rude awakening. But we need to wake up to that reality and act now to prevent such disasters as Georgia's.
The Georgia-Tennessee state border dispute may seem to be little more than provincial squawking over a few miles of land and water access. However, if we do not actively manage the demands we place on the global water supply; such disputes may become more commonplace and more dangerous as the stakes are raised. Conservation must become a routine part of our civic duty, and a guiding principle of our government policies.
"Sustainable development is...development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of further generations to peacefully meet their own needs."