Guest Column
Sen. Judson Hill,
32nd Dist.

Approximately 26 billion gallons of water are used every day in the United States. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the average American uses 80 to 100 gallons of water daily. People depend on water for healthy lifestyles, and Atlantans depend on Lake Lanier as their primary water source.

In July a federal judge ruled that Georgians have no right to use the lake for water consumption. According to U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson, drinking water was not an authorized purpose for the lake when it was created 50 years ago. The judge gives Congress three years to act to change the law; otherwise, his ruling will be implemented.

While I understand the need to follow the letter of the law, Georgians and this judge should consider what is practical. We cannot leave 5 million metro Atlanta residents without drinking water. This ruling must not stand.

As a member of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s team to develop a water strategy, I attended a recent meeting at the Governor’s Mansion with other lawmakers, local officials and corporate representatives to discuss solutions. The governor’s team agrees that the court’s ruling could have dire consequences.

We are appealing the ruling and asking our congressional delegation to act, but no stone can be left unturned. Georgia has another viable and plentiful water source right at its fingertips, the Tennessee River. The state’s true northern border encompasses a portion of the river, which receives more than 6 percent of its water directly from Georgia. In 1818 the state line was based on a flawed survey that placed the border 1.1 miles south of the 35th parallel. This parallel was the state line recognized by Congress. The error along the Tennessee-Mississippi border was corrected in the early 20th century. Neither Georgia nor Congress has ever accepted the erroneous boundary line. A formal ruling would correct the boundary error but moreover would place a portion of the Tennessee River in Georgia.

Last year, the Georgia General Assembly tried to rectify this error by bringing all parties to the table with the creation of the Georgia-Tennessee Commission. Unfortunately, our attempts to sit down and discuss solutions were never accepted by our neighbor.

We should actively pursue reopening these discussions. Two options are available to us: Either change Georgia’s border, which would require the affected states and Congress to agree, or develop a water-sharing agreement with Tennessee. Despite what critics say, neither solution requires costly legal fees.

Georgia should also advance every initiative that may allow us to better utilize water from the Chattahoochee River. While the primary use for the river is energy, its water is also used for drinking water, agriculture, recreation and navigation. Georgia receives no credit for returning clean water to the river after we withdraw it for use in metro Atlanta. Rather than return the used water to the Chattahoochee, other methods must be considered for reusing the water. A one-time withdrawal could be recycled numerous times to help alleviate the consequence of the court’s radical cutback in our water supply.

In addition to preserving the Chattahoochee’s water, we must utilize domestic, agricultural and environmental conservation practices. The past few years we have ramped up our conservation practices. This past June, the 55-county north Georgia area used 18 percent less water than in June two years ago.

Judge Magnuson gave us three years to create a solution. We must act now to innovatively meet this challenge by working to reclaim and reuse more water from the river as well as increase the pressure on surrounding states to negotiate a congressional solution. Three years may seem like a long time, but we have no time to waste.

Sen. Judson Hill (R-Marietta) represents a portion of Sandy Springs. He can be reached at 404-656-0150 or judson.hill@senate.ga.gov.

 

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