The Great Georgia-Tennessee Border War of 2013 Is Upon Us

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Historians, take note: On this day, which is not a day in 1732, a boundary dispute between two Southern states took a turn for the wet. In a two-page resolution passed overwhelmingly by the state senate, Georgia declared that it, not its neighbor to the north, controls part of the Tennessee River at Nickajack. Georgia doesn't want Nickajack. It wants that water.

Georgia's claim is that the boundary between the states was set at latitude 35° north when Georgia first gave up the Mississippi territory, but that a lousy 1818 survey ended up putting that state boundary a mile south of where it should have been. The blue line on this map is a rough approximation of that latitude parallel.

Georgia's not worried about its sovereign territory, like the Pennamite Wars that pitted Pennsylvania against Connecticut before the Revolutionary War. Nor is it an ideological conflict like that in the Koreas, which, interestingly, centers around the 38th parallel. What Georgia cares about is that splash of blue that is the Tennessee River.

During the summer of 2012, up to 95 percent of the state experienced some level of drought; in December, it hit 99 percent. Last May, nearly a quarter of the state experienced drought that registered as extreme. Despite the state legislature arguing that the drought wasn't that bad (in an effort to avoid hurting the landscaping industry), it was.

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Nor was last year the first time such a drought imperiled the state. In 2008, there was a similarly bad drought — prompting the state to try to gain access to the river by moving the boundary north. Tennessee rejected that effort.

Georgia's renewed focus on accessing the river isn't just a smart plan for right now. (Eighty percent of the state is still under drought conditions.) Climate change is likely to ensure ongoing droughts of similar magnitude, making an additional steady source of freshwater a critical need for the state.

If Tennessee agrees to redrawing the state line, the issue would be brought to Congress for approval. If it doesn't, the result probably won't be war. At least not between Georgia and Tennessee. Shortly after leaving the upper corner of Georgia, the river flows into Alabama, which last year saw drought cover 72 percent of its state. The odds are good Alabama isn't eager to give up its water either.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.