Alabama must develop a water plan

A water management plan would help Alabama prepare for its seasonal severe droughts, as well as the increasing flash flooding also hitting our region. (© Mitch Reid)

Despite ongoing efforts to develop a comprehensive water management plan for Alabama over the past several years, Alabama remains an outlier among neighboring states without a plan in place. And no thanks to Governor Kay Ivey, who sent a letter to the Alabama Water Resources Commission in December stating there isn’t enough evidence of urgent water-related problems to warrant developing one.

“During this time of increasing flash flooding, severe droughts, and water-related conflicts throughout our region, Alabama can’t continue on this reckless path without a plan for its freshwater systems,” says SELC Senior Attorney Sarah Stokes.

The Alabama legislature initially sparked a conversation over whether to develop a statewide water plan in 2007 when it created the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management. At that time, the Legislature also started dedicating funding to state agencies to develop water assessments in advance of the potential creation of a water plan.

There is no greater responsibility for the leaders of a state than to ensure its people are healthy and safe. That is not possible without abundant clean water.”

—Cindy Lowry, Alabama Rivers Alliance Executive Director

In 2012, under the directive of former Governor Robert Bentley, five state agencies known as the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group (AWAWG) started developing recommendations for the long-awaited plan. The group’s third and final report, submitted to the Governor’s Office exactly three years ago, strongly recommended, “the Governor’s Office and the Alabama Legislature declare that a state water management plan, supported by adequate long-term funding, be developed.”

Unfortunately, not much has happened since.

“While Ivey’s letter is disappointing, it has never been the role of state agencies to analyze and recommend legislation,” says Cindy Lowry, Executive Director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. To read Lowry's op-ed on the topic, published on AL.com February 12, click here.

Lowry continues, “It is imperative that the Alabama legislature continue to stay abreast of the work that has been done and to utilize their role to ensure that the proper laws are in place to support a strong and effective water plan.”

The Alabama Rivers Alliance, as well as SELC and other conservation groups, are urging the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management to pick up where it left off, and to continue developing a plan to manage the state’s water resources.

“A water plan is needed to ensure that our freshwater systems – rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, and aquifers – are healthy, protected, and can stand whatever challenges come our way, including drought, climate change, and current and future water conflicts with Mississippi and Georgia,” says Lowry. “It is about investing in water infrastructure, water research, and common-sense water laws and regulations that prepare us for the future.”

Adds Lowry, “There is no greater responsibility for the leaders of a state than to ensure its people are healthy and safe. That is not possible without abundant clean water.”

The committee was re-assigned in both the House and Senate last year. With the start of the 2020 legislative session earlier this month, all Alabamians should encourage these members to begin meeting again to keep the progress moving toward the creation of a statewide comprehensive water plan that considers current and future water needs for Alabama.

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