Press Release | July 13, 2011

Conservation Groups Issue Call to Action to Restore and Protect Alabama Waters

Two leading conservation organizations, the Alabama Rivers Alliance and Southern Environmental Law Center, today released a report detailing the changes needed in state policies to ensure that Alabama has clean and plentiful drinking water and healthy river systems for the long term.

The Alabama Water Agenda calls on state leaders to take prompt action to protect our environment and to manage Alabama’s waters to ensure the resource is fully protected and allocated fairly among our communities, farms, and industry.  Among other things, the groups recommend more funding for water quality programs, stronger enforcement of water laws, and better coordination among the many state agencies with some level of responsibility for our water resources. The complete report is available at for download.

“Healthy water in Alabama starts with strong leadership from state decision-makers.  We want people to be more aware of the importance of water in our lives and the need for sound water policy to protect this valuable resource,” said Cindy Lowry, Alabama Rivers Alliance Executive Director.

Alabama is one of the only states in the South that does not have a comprehensive statewide water resources management plan, which makes it particularly vulnerable to threats from nature and from neighboring states.  The recent federal court ruling in the Alabama-Georgia-Florida “water wars” lawsuit was a major setback for Alabama, which has long sought to compel Georgia to release more water from Lake Lanier into the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin to meet the needs of southeast Alabama.

“Alabama is vulnerable right now because it does not have a statewide water plan, which can hurt us in water negotiations in the future,” said Keith Johnston, Managing Attorney at the Birmingham Office of the Southern Environmental Law Center. Georgia and Florida have state water plans.

A comprehensive water plan would also help Alabama cope with natural threats, including droughts like the one currently gripping the southeast area of the state, which could have been mitigated by proper water management policies.

“Aside from any legal disputes with our neighbors, it’s just common sense for Alabama to have a long-range vision for managing such a valuable resource in a sustainable way, and we look forward to working with local and state leaders to achieve this goal,” Johnston said.

With more than 77,000 miles of rivers and streams, Alabama ranks sixth in the nation for the most continuously flowing streams, and first in freshwater species diversity. But, Alabama also ranks fourth for the number of aquatic species at risk for extinction – an indication of river systems under stress.

The Alabama Water Agenda, first produced by the Alabama Rivers Alliance and Southern Environmental Law Center in 2007, prioritized the major threats to Alabama’s waters and offered solutions as a guide for legislators, grassroots leaders, and decision-makers.  Today’s update is written less as a technical document and more for a broader audience of citizens. It identifies systemic problems and recommends numerous changes to address them. It also provides real-world examples that highlight widespread environmental problems in Alabama, including industrial, urban, and agricultural pollution and unrestrained development.

Representatives of the Alabama Rivers Alliance and the Southern Environmental Law Center are stopping in cities across Alabama this week to promote the Alabama Water Agenda, which will also be presented to Governor Robert Bentley, each member of the State Legislature and the heads of the various agencies with oversight of Alabama’s water resources.

The agenda focuses on four key solutions for solving the state’s most pressing water problems and identifies specific actions the state can take to achieve these goals.

* Water Policy — Alabama needs policies governing our waters with strong laws and clear, enforceable regulations.
* Enforcement — Alabama agencies need sufficient authority and funding to enforce laws, which are meaningless without adequate enforcement.
* Agency Coordination — Alabama has seven agencies with differing responsibilities for managing state waterways that often conflict or overlap, creating confusion, disagreement, and inaction. Alabama’s agencies need better coordination.
* Funding — Existing state programs that monitor and protect our waters are grossly and chronically under-funded. Additional resources are needed to properly implement our existing laws and to provide for new and expanded programs that will better protect our waters.

The Alabama Rivers Alliance is Alabama’s state-wide organization working to defend and restore Alabama’s rivers by advocating for smart water policy, organizing at the grassroots level, and teaching citizens how they can protect their water in order to achieve healthy rivers, healthy people, and a healthy system of government for the state of Alabama.