Water Management Planning in Alabama Underway as Supreme Court Declines to Hear State’s Appeal in Water Disputes

Water Management Planning in Alabama Underway as Supreme Court Declines to Hear State’s Appeal in Water Disputes




Mitch Reid, Alabama Rivers Alliance Program Director (205) 322-6395
Gil Rogers, Southern Environmental Law Center Clean Water Program Leader (404) 521-9900
Sarah Stokes, Southern Environmental Law Center Staff Attorney (205) 745-3060

Montgomery, Ala.  The United States Supreme Court has declined to hear an appeal by Alabama and Florida regarding the water rights of Lake Lanier in the decades-long water dispute with Georgia. This means that Lake Lanier is now authorized for water supply for Atlanta, and the Army Corps of Engineers will determine how much water will be allocated for that purpose.

“Now that the three states are out of the courtroom, we can focus on the next step, which is allocating water to meet the needs of all users up and down the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin and seeking better management of our water resources in Alabama and the southeastern region,” stated Gil Rogers, Clean Water Program leader for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

In Alabama this work has already begun.  Less than a year after the Alabama Rivers Alliance and the Southern Environmental Law Center released the Alabama Water Agenda calling on state leaders to develop a comprehensive water management plan for Alabama, Governor Bentley has given five state agencies the directive to put together such a plan by December 2013.

Cooper Shattuck, legal advisor for Governor Bentley, announced the directive at the annual meeting of the Alabama Bar Association Environmental Law Section last week: “we are trying to get ahead of the curve,” he stated. “Water is the oil of the 21stcentury.  Certainly right now we have a lot of uncertainty. We want to make sure that we have the benefit of the resource in the future.”  Shattuck stressed the need for a science-based policy that considers the needs of all of the water users throughout the State.

The governor’s directive, sent in the form of a letter to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the Alabama Office of Water Resources, and the Geologic Survey of Alabama, tasks these agencies with four objectives:

·        Reconvene the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group.
·        Create a comprehensive database of Alabama’s water resources.
·        Meet with stakeholders.
·        Recommend a statewide water management plan by December 1, 2013.

Bennett Bearden, General Counsel for the Geological Survey of Alabama, has been named the chair of the group.  Bearden has over 30 years’ experience in the field of natural resources and water policy including over 19 years’ experience in environmental law and policy.

Shattuck also noted that subsequent to the letter, the Governor has added the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries to the Working Group.  Recently, farm irrigation has risen as a significant future water use and the inclusion of this department is intended to ensure that the interests of the farming community are represented in the development of the water management plan.

“This is the most promising leadership we have seen from an elected official on this issue to date.  We are excited about being a part of this process and ensuring that the end product is a fair and implementable plan that will ensure Alabama’s water resources are sustainable for future generations,” stated Mitch Reid, Alabama Rivers Alliance program director.

“The ultimate resolution of this conflict depends upon the three states working together to reach a water sharing agreement,” said Rogers. “We applaud Governor Bentley’s commitment to managing the state’s water resources and believe this effort will prove beneficial as we continue to work toward an equitable resolution across the region.”

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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.

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional conservation organization using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC’s team of 48 legal experts represents more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.