by Cindy Lowry
As the United States Supreme Court prepares once again to hear arguments in the “water wars” between Georgia and Florida, and the Southeast continues to experience frequent flash flooding events and seasonally severe droughts, Alabama remains without a statewide water plan.
In December 2019, Governor Ivey issued a letter to the Alabama Water Resources Commission stating that there is not enough evidence of urgent problems to warrant spending more resources on developing a single document at this time, but they should continue to monitor the situation.
The effort to develop an Alabama Water Plan has made great strides over the past several years, but we still have a long way to go. After the Alabama Legislature sparked the conversation back in 2007 with the creation of the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management, much of the work shifted to the Executive Branch. The Alabama Legislature also began dedicating funding to state agencies to develop statewide water assessments to provide information for the development of a water plan.
In 2012, five state agencies, known as the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group (AWAWG), under the directive of former Governor Bentley began working to develop recommendations for a state water plan. Over the next five years they created three reports with the input of Alabama’s best academic researchers and hundreds of stakeholders from businesses, industries, farmers, environmental and conservation groups, and concerned individuals. Each one of these reports made the case that we need an Alabama Water Plan and recommended steps for how we can get there. Their third and final report, “Next Steps in Alabama Water Resource Management: Focus Area Panel Reports and AWAWG Recommendations”, submitted to Governor Bentley on January 31, 2017, strongly recommended “that the Governor’s Office and the Alabama Legislature declare that a state water management plan, supported by adequate long term funding, be developed.”
While Ivey’s letter is disappointing, it has never been the role of state agencies to analyze and recommend legislation. It is imperative that the Alabama Legislature continue to stay abreast of the work that has been done and to utilize their role to ensure that the proper laws are in place to support a strong and effective water plan. It is time for the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management to re-engage in this process and continue to move the ball forward. This Committee’s enabling legislation states the recognition that a comprehensive policy is critical to managing the state’s water resources. It was formed to study our water resources and recommend legislation and initiatives necessary to accomplish the goals and objectives of an Alabama Water Management Plan, which are laid out in this link.
A water plan isn’t as simple as monitoring and reacting to drought conditions. A water plan is needed to ensure that our freshwater systems – rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, and aquifers- are healthy, protected and can stand whatever challenges come our way, including drought, climate change, and current and future water conflicts with Mississippi and Georgia. It is about investing in water infrastructure, water research, and common-sense water laws and regulations that prepare us for the future. There is no greater responsibility for the leaders of a state than to ensure its people are healthy and safe. That is not possible without abundant clean water.
This committee was reassigned in both the House and the Senate last year. All Alabamians should encourage these members to begin meeting again in 2020 and keep the progress moving toward the creation of a comprehensive Alabama Water Plan.
Senator William Beasley (D-28)
Senator Andrew Jones (R-10)
Senator Steve Livingston (R-8)
Senator Arthur Orr (R-3)
Representative Wes Allen (R-89)
Representative Tracy Estes (R-17)
Representative Ralph Howard (D-72)
Representative Steve Hurst (R-35)
Representative Rodney Sullivan (R-61)
Representative Danny Crawford (R-5)
Representative Jim Carns (R-48)