Policy Updates from Curt

FARM BILL UPDATE

Last week the U.S. Senate passed its version of a new Farm Bill. As opposed to the hard fought Farm Bill that passed earlier last month in the House, the Senate voted in favor of its bill with relative ease by a bipartisan vote of 86-11. It initially appeared the Senate would include several of the dangerous provisions found in the House version. Most notably, the Senate considered repealing the Clean Water Rule and making it easier to spray pesticides directly into waterways. After significant outcry from environmental groups and constituents like you, no such provisions were added to the Senate’s vote last Thursday.

As you know, we asked you to contact Alabama Senators Doug Jones and Richard Shelby to tell them to reject the dangerous provisions found in the House version. After countless phone calls and emails, both Senators voted in favor of a clean Farm Bill. The Senate version does not repeal the Clean Water Rule or weaken protections against pesticides. It does increase funding for land and water conservation and encourage sustainable farming practices. Additionally, it gives much needed assistance to households suffering broken septic systems and dangerous water quality like those living in Alabama’s black belt region. While it was a great success to pass a clean Farm Bill in the Senate, there is still work to do. The House and Senate passed different versions. Leaders from the two chambers will enter a conference to negotiate their differences and create a coordinated bill. The House and Senate will have to agree on divergent issues like the Clean Water Rule, pesticide use, and environmental conservation funding. Stay tuned to ARA emails for the latest information and how YOU can help!

ALABAMA WATER PLAN UPDATE

Following Governor Kay Ivey’s decision to disband the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group, the Water Resources Commission (WRC) is now responsible for water management policy and developing a statewide water plan. So far in 2018, a group of five Commission members called the Subcommittee on Water Management has held multiple public meetings to determine (1) whether a water plan is necessary for the state, (2) what the substance of a water plan should be, and (3) what it will take to get there. In the coming months, the subcommittee will submit a “road map” to the Governor’s office that details the steps needed to create a water plan. While this document will not be a water plan, it will be the blue print for one. So, whatever comes out of these WRC meetings will eventually be reflected in the state’s water plan. For that reason, it is essential for environmental interests to be represented at these meetings and make sure the discussions are informed, scientific, and will lead to strong water protection.  The meetings are all open to the public and ARA staff attends all of them.  We will report back to you, our members and partners, on the happenings at these meetings. Please let us know if you would like to attend one with us.  

When Curt attended the most recent subcommittee meeting on June 27th, several of the state agencies testified about Alabama’s water resources and current legal protections. In addition to the extensive reports that came out of the AWAWG process, the agencies submitted a 24-page report to detail existing water policy and where it is deficient. During the next meeting on August 1st, the subcommittee plans to review and possible approve its rough draft for a road map. It is difficult to know exactly how influential the subcommittee’s road map will be or if the Governor will agree to implement its recommendation. Still, this process is tremendous progress towards an Alabama Water Plan, as many of our decision makers are talking about the need for a plan and their intentions to create one.

We will continue to attend these meetings have important conversations with these decision makers to get strong protection for our waters.

WATER WARS UPDATE:
Lessons learned from the Supreme Court Decision

On June 27th, the Supreme Court released an opinion on the “water war” between Georgia and Florida, a case in which the two states have fought for years over the apportionment of water in the Apalachicola-Flint-Chattahoochee river basin. This case was billed by some as having the potential to settle the interstate water disputes in the Southeast. Those who have witnessed decades of litigation, countless failed negotiations, and the deep entrenchment by all sides could have told you otherwise. The decision narrowly ruled for Florida on a preliminary matter, remanding the case back to the Special Master who was previously appointed to oversee the litigation. Now that the case is back with the Special Master, it will likely be drawn out even longer. The Court noted that the case will eventually center around whether Georgia’s use of the ACF basin substantially burdened its neighbor to the South.

Of course, Alabama is embroiled in two of its own federal lawsuits over water apportionment. The state should take away two major lessons from the Supreme Court decision. First, a major crux in water appropriation cases is proving that harm occurred because of upstream water use. If Alabama plans to win in court, we must do a better job assessing, cataloguing, and managing our rivers. Second and more importantly, we have to take the initiative and proactively manage our rivers and streams. We should not endanger Alabama’s water—or the countless people, animals, and wildlife that depend on them—because of a prolonged court case. To me, the recent Supreme Court decision further underscores to the need to adopt a comprehensive state water plan that efficiently manages our waters. By doing this, we can make sure that we have enough water to support the environment, public health, and economy of Alabama. We can finally take control of a confusing and expensive process that has no end in sight. We can protect ourselves no matter what happens next in court.

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