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S.C. Water Fight May Ripple in Georgia

GREAT FALLS, S.C. - The town's population dropped by half after the three textile mills closed in the 1980s. Great Falls took on the tattered look of so many other dried-up Southern towns, with a shuttered Winn-Dixie and a movie theater silent on Saturday nights.

But economic salvation may flow just below the red-brick remains of the No. 2 cotton mill. State and local officials tout the mighty Catawba River as a recreational magnet for kayakers, hikers and history buffs. Duke Energy, which manages the Catawba, promises to release enough water to return the river at Great Falls to its formerly frothy self on weekends between March and October.

What if there's a drought? Or if the booming cities upstream in North Carolina suck so much water from the river that Great Falls and other downstream South Carolina communities become high and dry?

Those twin fears prompted South Carolina to sue North Carolina last year in a case with potentially huge implications for Georgia. The U.S. Supreme Court, which hears interstate disputes, appointed a "special master" to determine whether North Carolina illegally transfers water out of the Catawba River basin.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue and state legislators, casting about for remedies to the state's severe drought, eye the bountiful Tennessee River that flows within a mile of Georgia's northwestern corner. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen says the Tennessee is off-limits to Georgia.

Perdue's office has hired attorneys at two Atlanta law firms to determine whether it's legally possible to tap the Tennessee. A lawsuit, similar to South Carolina's, could be filed with the Supreme Court, though Perdue's spokesman said last week that legal action isn't imminent. With much of the southeastern United States fighting over rivers, the Carolinas water war could set legal precedent.

"This is not just a North Carolina vs. South Carolina battle," said Gary Faulkenberry, a member of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation who lives 10 miles downstream from Great Falls. "This is an opportunity to determine what is a fair and equitable distribution of water between states."

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