Roy Exum: 60 Square Miles For 1.5

Thursday, February 28, 2013 - by Roy Exum

Six years ago, in December of 2007, I wrote a story entitled, “Sure, Come Get Water,” which marked the last time the state of Georgia was itching to insert a giant straw of sorts into the Tennessee River and begin to syphon off enough water every day for 5 million people in Atlanta.

My belief at the time – and I still cling to it – is that we are the “United States,” not the “Separate States” of America. I believe we are here to help one another and that instead of lawsuits, bickering  over the state line, and grousing about it, we should instead welcome thirsty Georgians in the exact same way as the Guy would who really owns the water. Yes sir, I think God, who created heaven and earth, would do exactly that.

The Georgia legislature, which has been trying to get access to the Tennessee River for nigh on 200 years, is probably right when proponents claim the state boundary line – meant to follow the 35th parallel – was plotted wrong and that part of Nickajack Lake should be in Georgia. It is also claimed the watershed in North Georgia drains about 1.6 billion gallons into the Tennessee River every day, or about six percent of the water that flows downstream.

For the record, the Tennessee River begins just east of Knoxville, where the Holston and the French Broad meet at an altitude of 813 feet above sea level. The river then winds 652 miles before it empties into the Ohio River at a point near Paducah, Ky., that is 302 feet above sea level. The average water flow is 70,575 cubic feet per second so “a giant straw” would solve water problems in North Georgia and Atlanta. And, add this: The Corps of Engineers believes there is no way the river will ever run dry.

The Georgia legislature voted 172-2 in favor of a bill last week that would grant Georgia “riparian water rights” to the Tennessee River at Nickajack.  The introduction to the bill in the Legislature calls for the state line to be corrected with the words …

“WHEREAS, when the State of Georgia ceded the Mississippi Territory to the United States, the northern border of the State of Georgia and the southern border of the State of Tennessee was established at the 35th parallel of north latitude and would have been located on the northernmost bank of the Tennessee River at Nickajack; and

“WHEREAS, a flawed survey conducted in 1818 erroneously placed the mark of the 35th parallel approximately one mile south of the actual location of the 35th parallel of north latitude … “

* * *

In this, the 10th time Georgia has made a try at the Tennessee River, they have an offer to go along with the request. What Georgia wants to do is abandon all claim it has to 60 square miles of land below the 35th parallel – land that was also plotted badly -- if Tennessee will, in turn, give Georgia a thin sliver of land – about 1.5 square miles -- where they can put a pipeline to rush the water towards Atlanta, which is one of very few large cities in America with no river or lake large enough to meet its water demands.

If you are confused about the land swap, think about that four-mile stretch between Chattanooga and Jasper where you mysteriously drive on Interstate 24 through the state of Georgia (to get to I-59, for example.) Here’s the official solution as proposed by the Georgia bill:

“WHEREAS, the State of Georgia proposes to the State of Tennessee that the dispute be resolved by the states agreeing that the current boundary between the two states reflecting the flawed 1818 survey be adopted as the legal boundary between the states except for an area described as follows which shall be made a part of the State of Georgia by which Georgia shall be able to exercise its riparian water rights to the Tennessee River at Nickajack:

“Beginning at the present intersection of the boundaries of the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee based upon the 1818 survey, which shall be the point of beginning, proceed north-northwesterly from such point along a line extended from the Georgia-Alabama border if such border line was extended north-northwesterly in a straight line to the 35th parallel of north latitude; thence east along the 35th parallel of north latitude for a distance of approximately one and one-half miles; thence south-southeasterly along a line parallel to the line running from the point of beginning to the 35th parallel of north latitude first described herein to the intersection with the present boundary between Tennessee and Georgia based on the 1818 survey; thence west along such boundary to the point of beginning … “

* * *

Tennessee lawmakers aren’t nearly as worried, making jokes over the Georgia straw idea. But our neighbors are intense, saying that if the Tennessee Legislature rejects the idea, Governor Nathan Deal plans to go all the way to the Supreme Court, not as mean-spirited as much as desperate.

If I were King there would be no sort of ruckus. I’d tell them to tell me how much land they needed for the pumping station and gift it from the people of Tennessee. The lone proviso would be that for every time a hick cop from some scurrilous county between here and Atlanta gives a car with Tennessee tags a ticket, we will cut off all electricity to said pumping station for eight hours before resuming service.

Finally, there is one other solution. I believe I know how I could take six graduate students from Georgia Tech and six from the University of Georgia and – in less than a month -- provide all the water Atlanta would need for an eternity. I can almost guarantee it and it is only because I listened to a particular conversation as a little kid. I cannot reveal the method – the pot ain’t rich enough yet – but I know just what to do.

When I spring my great surprise, everybody in the state of Georgia will laugh and giggle and dance with glee and I shall write the best three words ever by any author: “For Deposit Only.”

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