Feature

Why Georgia is claiming control over a slice of Tennessee

A centuries-old land dispute gains new life during a severe drought

Feeling the pinch of a severe drought, Georgia has devised an ingenious way of bringing more water in: Redraw the state lines.

On Monday, the Georgia Senate approved a resolution that would redraw the state's border with Tennessee to give Georgia control over a small strip of land along the Tennessee River. Under the change, Georgia would gain access to the river, but no Tennessee residents living near the state border would be affected.

According to supporters of the measure, Georgia should have been in control of that land all along. They say an 1818 federal survey erroneously marked the state border one mile south of its intended location, inadvertently giving Tennessee control over a swath of Georgia's land.

"The Tennessee Valley Authority has identified the Tennessee River as a likely source of water for north Georgia. Yet, the state of Tennessee has used mis-marked boundary lines to block our access to this important waterway," Georgia state Sen. David Shafer (R) said in a statement.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, most of Georgia is currently experiencing a period of abnormal aridity, with parts of the state afflicted by a "severe" drought.

Georgia's lawmakers say they're being generous with the offer. They're asking that Tennessee return only a small part of the allegedly misappropriated land, not the whole chunk, so that Georgia can draw water from the river to hydrate the region.

The resolution calls on Tennessee to accept the new land terms, something lawmakers there have not yet addressed. Should they reject the request, the resolution specifically calls for Georgia's attorney general to pursue legal action to reclaim all of the contested land, not just the sliver Georgia is currently seeking. The federal government has weighed in a few times before to settle land disputes between states.

It's not the first time Georgia has tried to reclaim the disputed land. In 2008, a drought prompted similar legislation, though Tennessee rejected that plan. The state has pursued other reclamation efforts since as far back as 1880, though those also stalled.

The resolution now heads back to the Georgia House of Representatives for final approval. The Senate lightly amended a previous House-passed bill, and the revised version is expected to pass in the lower chamber as well.

In the unlikely event that it is ultimately accepted by both states, it would go on to the U.S. Congress for ratification.

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