Alabama legislative hearing brings status of water plan to forefront
As the Alabama 2017 legislative session draws to a close, lawmakers held a hearing yesterday in Montgomery to discuss a bill that would modify existing state law to require the Alabama Office of Water Resources to balance water withdrawals with protection of the state’s water resources.
Before a completely packed room in the Alabama Statehouse, the House Committee on Agriculture and Forestry heard comments from environmental organizations and other concerned citizens about the importance of maintaining proper flow levels in rivers and streams to protect drinking water, Alabama’s world-renowned aquatic biodiversity, and the state’s lucrative recreation and tourism industry.
The lack of a statewide water management plan coupled with persistent drought conditions that have gripped most of the Southeast since 2016 underscore the problems with unchecked water withdrawals in Alabama, particularly when many streams and rivers across the state reached record low levels during last year’s declared state of emergency.
As it currently stands, no state agency is currently responsible for assessing stream flows to ensure that water uses are sustainable or to step in when water uses threaten the integrity of Alabama’s water resources.
Due to a lack of planning, American Rivers recently listed the Mobile Bay Basin as one of the nation’s most endangered waterways.
To better define what aspects of the water resources the state will protect and to clarify the conditions that will trigger state action, Representative Patricia Todd filed the Alabama Water Conservation and Security Act (HB577) earlier this month.
Even though the bill was filed too late in the 2017 session to pass, the hearing provided an important opportunity to inform legislators about the status of water planning in Alabama, as well as the importance of the bill to ensure the state will be ready to meet future water shortages and to provide clear standards that will enable better planning for water users across the board.
During the drought last fall, we realized that our current system had some serious flaws,” said Mitch Reid of Alabama Rivers Alliance. “This bill will require the state to use good science to determine how much water should be left in our streams and it will mandate that the state step in during water shortages to balance everyone’s interests–had this been in place last year, we could have saved many streams from dying out completely.
This bill and the conversation it has spurred around the importance of keeping enough water in our rivers and streams represents another step toward a comprehensive water management plan,” said SELC attorney Sarah Stokes. “It’s encouraging that this issue is on legislators’ minds, but we need to keep pushing until we get to the end goal.