IN THE NEWS
Governor Ivey Disbands Agencies Tasked with Creating Statewide Water Management Plan
BIRMINGHAM, AL – According to a letter issued earlier this month, 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 to establish a comprehensive water management plan sets all of Alabama back in the progress that’s been made to date,” said Sarah Stokes, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “In her letter to the AWAWG chair, 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.”
“We don’t wait to plan for a hurricane or a tornado until it happens, so why wait to plan for water shortage until there is a crisis?” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance. “With this move, the Governor is ignoring years of work and millions of taxpayer dollars spent by all of the agencies governing Alabama’s water resources. Rather than kicking the can down the road yet again, we need leadership that prioritizes water stewardship and protection.”
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 the Southern Environmental Law Center and the Alabama Rivers Alliance shows that four-in-five voters across Alabama support the state legislature taking action to establish an Alabama Water Plan, including a plan that would allow for water permitting.
In the letter, the Governor states that she plans on relying on the current law, the Alabama Water Resources Act. In 1990, the Water Resources Act gave the Office of Water Resources the responsibility to develop an Alabama Water Management Plan. Yet 27 years later, Alabama still lacks a comprehensive water management plan. This lack of state planning has weakened Alabama’s ability to effectively negotiate with neighboring states, like Georgia, in the decades-old “tri-state water wars.”
It has also made it difficult for farmers to invest in irrigation systems and has crippled the state’s ability to address water shortages, which are occurring more frequently. The long-term consequences of a lack of water planning may result in more expensive drinking water and less availability of water for a range of essential uses such as agriculture and recreation.
In the letter, the Governor cites a report that suggests that Alabama’s waterways are adequate to meet future needs. However, this report remains unpublished. Previous droughts, including the drought last year, demonstrate that failure to plan continues to put Alabama waterways and water users in jeopardy.
Also in the letter, Ivey asks OWR “to continue its efforts to update water availability summaries for the state and to refine future water-use forecasts as needed,” and asks that Dr. Nick Tew, the AWAWG Chairman, continue to work with OWR on water resource assessments.
“Governor Ivey has, at least, recognized the need for continued water assessments to inform future water management decisions, but initial rounds of high level assessments are only the beginning of what we need to truly understand our water needs and identify potential problem areas,” said Lowry. “The expertise of the AWAWG agencies, like the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, are essential in assessing impacts of water use on our rivers and streams. 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.”
In 2012, the AWAWG was formed and began studying Alabama’s water use and availability and discussing how to manage water needs for the future.
The agencies involved in AWAWG include: the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (protecting fish and wildlife), the Geologic Survey of Alabama (studying groundwater), the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (regulating water quality), the Department of Agriculture and Industry, the Office of Water Resources (OWR), and the State Climatologist. All of these agencies play a critical role in the management and conservation of our water resources and it is important that any plan developed includes the perspectives of them all.
The AWAWG has since released three important reports and worked with hundreds of stakeholder groups across the state to develop recommendations for moving forward. The third AWAWG report—a culmination of dozens of meetings with stakeholders and agency personnel—has been sitting on the Governor’s desk since she took office earlier this year.
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About Alabama Rivers Alliance:
Alabama Rivers Alliance is a statewide network of groups working to protect and restore all of Alabama’s water resources through building partnerships, empowering citizens, and advocating for sound water policy and its enforcement. For more information, please visit www.AlabamaRivers.org.
About Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. With nine offices across the region (Charlottesville, VA; Chapel Hill, NC; Atlanta, GA; Charleston, SC; Washington, DC; Birmingham, AL; Nashville, TN; Asheville, NC; and Richmond, VA), SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect the South’s natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org