A water pipe dream

Atlanta boasts the world's busiest airport, and Chattanooga is built along one of America's largest rivers. Each community has something the other wants for future growth. Now, some leaders are opening the door -- if only slightly -- to...


Mr. Littlefield said local people have suggested that Chattanooga should swap water for a high-speed train to Georgia's capital city.

"I'm not ready to say yes to that either," he said. "I'm open to discussion. ... It's way too premature to start mapping out how that would work."

Last year, a $7 million federally funded study began to help determine the feasibility of building a high-speed train from Atlanta to Nashville through Chattanooga, according to consultant Joe Ferguson. Last week, Georgia Sens. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, and Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna, joined Mr. Ferguson and others in a trip to Shanghai to ride China's high-speed mag-lev train.

Despite his support for the high-speed train, Mr. Littlefield said he isn't ready to add a water pipe to the transportation route between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

"There's not going to be an aqueduct that's redirecting the Tennessee River down to Atlanta. That's not going to happen," Mr. Littlefield said.

In 2000, the Tennessee Legislature adopted legislation requiring any water transfer from one watershed to another to be permitted by the state Department of Environment and Conservation. So far, seven such permits have been issued, records show.

Former state Rep. Bill McAfee, R-Signal Mountain, was the lead sponsor of the bill to limit interbasin transfers.

"I would like to help Georgia if we can, but I do think we should make sure we maintain what we have for our residents and take care of our own first," Rep. McAfee said.

CHANGING POLICIES

The current drought -- the worst in the Southeast in the 118 years of recorded data -- already is putting pressure from other communities eager to tap into the Tennessee River.

In response, TVA, which controls the flow of the 652-mile river, is taking a new look at water transfers in the Southeast. TVA Director Susan Richardson Williams, chairwoman of the board's community relations committee, said the agency will review and adopt a new policy next year about transferring water out of the Tennessee River watershed.

"Considering the importance of an adequate water supply to the quality of life and the economic vitality of the TVA region, this is going to be one of the more important policies the board is going to be asked to consider," she said.

Intakes for water withdrawals on the Tennessee River system require TVA approval under Section 26a of the TVA act. Existing interbasin transfers, excluding the Tennessee Tombigbee waterway, total about 14 million gallons of water per day. Corinth, Miss.; Franklin County, Ala.; and Cleveland, Tenn., have additional requests pending to increase water withdrawals.

A study in 2004 by TVA projects that water demand in the Tennessee Valley will increase by 51 percent by 2030. Charles Bohac, one of the authors of the study, said such an increase "could result in lower reservoir levels, less water in rivers under minimum flow conditions and water scarcity in areas not served by reservoirs."

But the 24 existing interbasin water transfers in the Tennessee River watershed still are only a drop in the bucket for the total flow of the Tennessee River. On a typical day, the Tennessee River moves 9 billion gallons of water past Chattanooga, according to TVA.

Nonetheless, TVA President Tom Kilgore, a former resident of Atlanta, said last week that he would be reluctant to give any water from the Tennessee River to the Atlanta region.

"I lived there when they were supposed to build six reservoirs around the city, and they built zero, so they're starting with the wrong person," Mr. Kilgore said.

Staff writer Pam Sohn contributed to this story.

E-mail Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com

E-mail Michael Davis at michaeld@timesfreepress.com

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