Alabama’s long-awaited water report signals progress toward statewide plan

A stream flowing into Alabama’s Coosa River. (© Beth Young)

Over a year after its completion, SELC and Alabama partners have finally received a draft report outlining several recommendations for developing Alabama’s first comprehensive statewide water management plan. The draft is an important step toward the ultimate goal of creating a water plan that will guide Alabama’s use of this precious resource and better position the state as neighboring ones debate water rights.

Submitted to the governor’s office by the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group (AWAWG), a group of six state agencies convened by former Governor Robert Bentley in 2012, the water management report includes final recommendations from focus panels addressing key issues, as well as the results of dozens of meetings with stakeholders, agency personnel, and Alabama citizens.

Lagging behind neighboring states for decades, Alabama has gone through multiple droughts without a water management plan to help conserve water and protect the state’s rivers and streams during times of scarcity. The lack of a plan also puts Alabama at a disadvantage as the state navigates through competing water demands.

After years of advocating for a comprehensive plan and participating in the AWAWG focus panels, SELC and Alabama Rivers Alliance have been anxiously awaiting the release of the report to help inform leadership at the state level and provide guidelines for good water stewardship and protection. But discernable progress toward a plan has been slow, and appeared to be further hindered when the current governor announced plans to disband the AWAWG late last year. Governor Kay Ivey’s decision put the responsibility of developing a plan back on the Alabama Office of Water Resources and the Alabama Water Resources Commission.

However, the AWAWG report was submitted to the governor’s office with final recommendations before it was disbanded, a positive indication that state leaders are committed to moving forward in developing and implementing a plan. In addition to the report, Governor Ivey also requested in a letter that the Office of Water Resources and the Alabama Water Resources Commission review the report and “develop a roadmap that includes recommendations on next steps, proposed timelines and estimated funding needs to produce a water management plan.”

While SELC and Alabama Rivers Alliance applaud the move, both groups remain committed to seeing the process through and urge Alabama residents to make their voices heard in support of a water plan.

“Alabama citizens’ voices have finally been heard and our state leaders now appear to be moving forward with efforts to develop an Alabama Water Plan,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. “We must continue to ensure that this is not just lip service.”

Alabama is well behind our neighbors in the Southeast and much of the country in having almost no meaningful way to manage water in times of drought or in cases of competition for limited water,” said SELC staff attorney Sarah Stokes. “This is an important step forward, but the state needs to see it through to the finish line.   ”

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