Every once in a while, a crisis comes along that tells you everything you need to know about the character and courage of our elected leaders. When circumstances collide to create a situation where only tough trade-offs and compromises offer the chance for a real solution to a problem, that's when you can see if the people we have entrusted with elected office are up to the task. Anyone can pass laws or manage state agencies when everything is humming along. It's when leaders are in a position where they have to make someone mad to solve a problem that we learn if they're really worthy of the power we've given them.
Georgia's water crisis is the most recent test of our elected officials' seriousness of purpose and courage, and they have so far failed miserably. Last year we had Gov. Sonny Perdue throwing tantrums about Alabama, Florida and mussels in the Apalachicola River. He led a prayer vigil (duly publicized by his press office) for rain on the steps of the State Capitol. Our governor has essentially viewed the greatest natural resource crisis in Georgia's modern history as a personal public relations issue and has focused on generating news stories that deflect attention from his failure to address the problem.
Even the water-planning legislation Perdue recently signed is little more than a talking point that allows him to tell us he's "doing something." The water plan passed by this year's General Assembly is so watered down (no pun intended) that it really isn't anything more than a plan to get a plan to solve the crisis at some point in the future. It does nothing to actually put into place a system to ensure that the growing metro Atlanta region plans for the future by both conserving water and finding new sources of it. Doing so would risk Perdue angering his friends among the big developers who have funded his campaigns and provided him with chances to get rich on land deals during his time in the Governor's Mansion.
This past week, Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, provided us with the latest diversionary publicity stunt of our water crisis. Shafer introduced a bill, which is now moving through the General Assembly, to shift northward the Georgia-Tennessee border so that a small part of the massive Tennessee River flows through Georgia. That would presumably allow the state to build a water pipeline from that big water source to feed expanding metro Atlanta's need for water.
The bill is based on the fact that a fellow named James Camack, who was trying to survey the border in 1818 with primitive instruments and among warring Indians, apparently made a miscalculation that led to Georgia's border being a bit too far south, and consequently missing the Tennessee River's "Great Bend." Other evidence includes deeds given to Revolutionary War veterans who were granted land in the Great Bend area that indicate the land then was considered to be part of Georgia.
All of that ancient historical information may be true. Camack apparently even admitted his error in the 1820s. The chances of Shafer's scheme to move the border succeeding, however, are closer to none than slim.
Property law has long included the concept of "adverse possession," which states that if a property owner does not assert a claim to land occupied by someone else, he loses the ownership of the property after a time, traditionally 20 years. Considering that Camack's error occurred in 1818, we are at the 190-year mark since that poor guy's ineptitude cost our state a piece of the banks of the Tennessee River.
As Shafer's bill has progressed during this legislative session, the media has dutifully reported on it and the claim that if the border is moved, metro Atlanta's water crisis would be solved. Once again, though, Shafer's bill, like just about everything else our elected officials have done during this crisis, is about putting on a show for us about how hard they are trying to solve the problem, without them actually doing anything to fix the mess.
Shafer and his pals may not realize the extent of public anger over the water crisis. A phony solution just won't fly. However, if the General Assembly should somehow succeed in Georgia being allowed to haul water out of Tennessee, a new era of litigation may be launched. Reader Steve Andrews of Thomasville offers this suggestion:
"Our Legislature is a shameful farce. The water-grab resolution is just idiocy tinged with greed, or vice versa.
"But as long as, 'It's never too late to right a wrong,' the state of Georgia should move to restore the lands of the Creeks and Cherokees. That would probably put a crimp in the developers' grand schemes. But as long as you're opening a can of worms, open two cans of worms."
Steve's idea may sound far-fetched, but it is more likely to become reality than Shafer's grandly announced hope to raise the Georgia flag over the Tennessee River.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on the Web at billshipponline.com.