All of you who were born on this wondrous Cumberland Plateau were blessed. And most of us who chose this place to live also feel blessed. Nature gave the Plateau several special gifts. The northern Cumberland Plateau holds the largest hardwood-forested plateau in the world and in that same part of the Cumberland Mountains is where the headwaters of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers form the most biologically rich river basin in North America.

This I know because the recent spring issue of the Nature Conservancy’s magazine featured a double page picture of a dense section of that sheltered forest all decked out in fresh spring-green leaves. A brief story explained the Cumberland Plateau was now protected because the Nature Conservancy and the state of Tennessee had teamed up with the Lyme Timber Co. and Conservation Forestry LLC to protect 127,754 acres on the Northern Cumberland Plateau. This action is the largest conservation project in Tennessee since the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Teddy Roosevelt, that first conservation president, would be shouting, “Bully!” for that successful venture.

Another story concerning natural resources has used gallons of printer’s ink since December. The ongoing skirmish between Georgia and Tennessee over the Tennessee River hasn’t come to blows yet. Each new headline reminds me of studying Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and the unforgettable line, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”

As Georgia’s population soars out of control officials are finally realizing water is getting scarce. H2O is an absolute necessity for life and battles over water rights have been around as long as humans. Laws and rules concerning water were written, revised and rewritten from the earliest societies on.

The thirteen new colonies first used the common laws of England regarding water but as the country expanded new laws were needed for the much different bodies of water they found.

By the time the dry west became part of the nation water became a worse problem. The law enacted was not very helpful. It stated, “The first user of water has a right by priority of occupation if he gives notice to the public of an intention to appropriate, provided he is competent to hold the land.”

The Tennessee lawmakers passed a very different law in 2000. The Interbasin Water Transfer Act requires the state to issue permits to any entity moving water out of the Tennessee River watershed, which is the 40,000-square-mile area where rainfall naturally flows ultimately to the river. The reason for this act I could not find.

It was December 2007 that Georgia suggested a new survey should be made because the original 1818 survey was faulty and the Georgia state line should be a mile north. At first, most thought it was harmless joking but then in late February came a bolder suggestion.

The historic Nickajack Cave is located at the Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia border. According to the water hungry Peachtree folks, Tennessee River water was backed up in the cave by TVA dams years ago. They say that some of that water flows underground into Alabama and Georgia. These advocates believe that engineers could drill into the cave and find water in connected underground caves in their states.

Should that happen the courts would probably have to decide if the water was groundwater or Tennessee River water. As a late 19th century poet Rowland Howard wrote, “You never miss the water till the well runs dry.”

Dorothy Copus Brush is a Fairfield Glade resident and Crossville Chronicle staffwriter whose column is published each Wednesday. She may be reached at

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