News | October 21, 2016

Worsening drought in Alabama highlights critical need for water planning

After several months of extremely dry conditions with little to no rain and above average temperatures, parts of the Southeast, including Alabama, Georgia, southern Tennessee, and the western portions of the Carolinas, continue to experience intensifying drought conditions this week.

Drought strangles Southeast

Persisting drought conditions are putting undue stress on river systems and streams throughout the Southeast. Alabama is particularly affected because it lacks a state water management plan.

In addition to reports of an increasing number of wildfires and visible impacts on the state’s most important rivers (most notably the Cahaba River, which is approaching historically low levels), Alabama is in a particularly vulnerable position without a statewide water management plan and no meaningful drought response planning in place.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has signed a Drought Emergency Declaration, banning all outdoor burning in 46 counties and marking the first drought declaration in Alabama since the record-breaking 2007 drought.

Severe drought conditions again in 2012 and calls for leadership on water planning from SELC and Alabama Rivers Alliance prompted Governor Bentley to task a group of state agencies with initiating the first steps toward a comprehensive state water management plan.

Yet despite some progress, including convening focus panels to develop water planning policies, the lack of pre-emptive planning and action becomes even more apparent in cases of extreme water scarcities, like the current drought. Without a plan, water users are not required to conserve their water, even during a drought.

“When it comes to managing our water resources, we cannot afford to continue this pattern of sitting idle, even as the warning signs start to emerge,” said SELC Staff Attorney Sarah Stokes. “In order to stop this cycle and lessen the likelihood of a crisis situation in the future, we need leadership at the state level to implement immediate action steps and determine a long-term plan for protecting Alabama's waters.” 

“After the droughts in the '80s, ‘90s, and in 2007, there was a lot of talk and hand wringing but little action–now we are once again in a drought emergency and our rivers are paying the ultimate price,” said Alabama Rivers Alliance Program Director Mitch Reid. “Moving forward, the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group must provide the Governor with a real plan for sustainably managing our water resources, because what we have now is clearly not working.”

Read an op-ed published this week on by Alabama Rivers Alliance Program Director, Mitch Reid: “Gov. Bentley should protect Alabama rivers by restricting watering during drought crisis”