Beyond the Tap: Every Idea must be considered to Solve Water Wars

By Georgia Senator Judson Hill

Sen. Judson Hill
Sen. Judson Hill

Approximately 26 billion gallons of water are used every day in the United States. According to the United States Geological Survey, the average American uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water daily.  People depend on water for healthy lifestyles; and Atlantians depend on Lake Lanier as their primary water source.  Earlier this month a federal judge ruled that Georgians have no right to use the lake for water consumption. According to U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson, drinking water was not an authorized purpose for the lake when it was created 50 years ago and should not be now.  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 even 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 Governor Sonny Perdue’s team to develop a water strategy, I attended a meeting last week 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 for the entire state. No innovative solution should be left out of consideration. . 

We are appealing the ruling and asking our congressional delegation to act, however, 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 actually 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 which places the border 1.1 miles south of the 35th parallel.  This parallel was the true state line recognized by Congress.  In fact, 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 serve to correct the boundary error, but moreover places a portion of the Tennessee River in Georgia

Last year, the Georgia legislature 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 neighboring state.  That was not a surprise. 

We should actively pursue re-opening 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 if we can come to an agreement.

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 power, 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 the metro Atlanta area. Rather than returning the used water to the Chattahoochee, other methods must be considered for reusing the water. A one-time withdraw 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 with good results, but conservation alone will never compensate for this dramatic cutback in supply. This past June, the 55-county north Georgia area used 18 percent less water than in June two years ago, proving that simple conservation methods are effective. 

Judge Magnuson gave us three years to create a solution otherwise we may suffer irreparably.    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 our surrounding states to come to the table to negotiate a Congressional solution. Three years may seem like a long time, but considering the number of stakeholders involved and the health and welfare of our state at risk, we have no time to waste. 

Sen. Judson Hill serves as Chairman of Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, the Republican Caucus Vice Chairman and the Chairman of the Georgia Senate Health Care Reform Committee. He represents the 32nd Senate District which includes portions of Cobb and Fulton counties.  He may be reached by phone at 404.656.0150 or by e-mail at

For Immediate Release:
July 30, 2009
For Information Contact:
Raegan Weber, Director