Governor Ivey disbands panel tasked with creating Alabama water management plan

This Fall 2016 photo of Little River Canyon near Ft. Payne, Alabama is a reminder of how recent droughts have further crippled the state’s ability to address water shortages without a state water management plan in place.

According to a letter issued earlier this month, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey has disbanded a group of six state agencies, called the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group (AWAWG), halting an important five-year process to plan for the future of Alabama’s waterways.

“Less than a year after one of the worst droughts in the history of our state, the Governor’s decision to put the brakes on an already overdue and lengthy process sets all of Alabama back in the progress that’s been made to date,” said Sarah Stokes, an SELC attorney. “Instead, the Governor states she will rely on the current policies, which have been consistently ineffective in the past. These policies do not ensure any protection during droughts, nor do they ensure that statewide water users are using our limited resources efficiently.”

The Governor’s decision to put water planning and management exclusively back in the hands of the Office of Water Resources ignores years of work by the AWAWG agencies.

In 1990, the Water Resources Act gave the Office of Water Resources the responsibility to develop a comprehensive management plan.  Yet 27 years later, Alabama still lacks a comprehensive water management plan, further weakening the state’s ability to effectively negotiate with its neighbors, like Georgia, in the decades-old “tri-state water wars.”

Prior to the AWAWG, there had been no discernable progress toward the development of a water plan. Convened by Governor Bentley to create a recommendation for a statewide water management plan over five years ago, the AWAWG held more than twenty meetings with hundreds of stakeholders and the public. It provided its final recommendation to the Governor’s office last year; however Governor Ivey has never presented this recommendation to the public.

A recent poll commissioned by SELC and the Alabama Rivers Alliance shows that four-in-five voters across Alabama support the state legislature taking action to establish a comprehensive water management plan.  SELC and ARA will be working to find other avenues to reform water management in Alabama, including exploring legislative solutions.

“Rather than kicking the can down the road yet again, we need leadership that prioritizes water stewardship and protection,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of ARA. “In light of this decision, now more than ever, we need our state legislators to step up and take action—not after another state of emergency due to drought conditions—but now.”

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