Our rivers provide us with the water we drink and a healthy environment for swimming, hunting, fishing and enjoying nature. They are recognized globally for their unique ecological significance. Our water resources are also essential for our farming, manufacturing, and navigation industries. It is critical to make sure these waters are managed and protected so there is water for everyone.
Water Resources and Economic Opportunities
Alabama’s cities and towns continue to explore ways to attract industry and provide for increasing populations. Alabama’s agricultural community is excited about the Alabama Irrigation Initiative, an economic opportunity that will dramatically increase farm irrigation and redefine the relationship between farmers and their water resources. Plentiful water supplies are necessary to capitalize on these opportunities, as well as many others, and ensuring this supply will require proper planning.
Planning for water supply is the same as planning the family budget: you have to plan for when times are tough (such as this year’s drought in South Alabama). You have to be able to tighten the belt to keep the family afloat. Compared to states out west, Alabama is blessed with water. However we can do a much better job of managing this resource. Our water resources are increasingly at risk from droughts and unbalanced distribution. On top of this, Alabama is losing legal battles against our neighboring states for control of these resources. Regardless of political affiliation or location in the state, everyone in the state has an interest in protecting our water resources.
Alabama’s current system favors those who happen to live higher up on the river or have the biggest pump in the ground. Whether you are looking to invest in irrigation for your farm or want to bring a business to your town, you must have a predictable and secure source of water. That security cannot be found under Alabama’s current system.
A Long Time Coming
In 1990, the Alabama Water Resources Study Commission warned that without action, water would become the limiting factor for growth in Alabama. Our current law, the Alabama Water Resources Act, does not go far enough. While it created the Office of Water Resources, it did not give it the ability to protect water. Because of the catastrophic droughts in 2007, the Alabama Legislature formed the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee for Water Policy and Management to develop a sustainable plan for Alabama.
A comprehensive water plan is the only way to protect our water resources and the people of the State of Alabama. The Permanent Joint Legislative Committee for Water Policy and Management is working towards this goal. They need the support and leadership of the Governor and their constituents to move forward with this plan.
Recommended Components of a Comprehensive Water Management Plan
- Monitoring and Management of Water Withdrawals – Enhance the current certificate program to ensure more accurate monitoring and management of water withdrawals on a statewide basis.
- Protection of Minimum Flows – Put in place procedures for science to determine the amount of flows needed in our river systems and groundwater resources in order to sustain all of the demands for water withdrawals, while ensuring the natural system remains healthy and sustainable.
- Management of Interbasin Transfers – Manage the exchange of water from one basin to another to maintain and protect the health and flows of each natural system involved in the transfer.
- Conservation and Efficiency Programs – Implement statewide programs incentivizing and requiring money-saving and water-saving conservation and efficiency programs.
- Regional Decision-Making Structure – Make decisions about the implementation of a comprehensive water plan at the watershed level in order to achieve the greatest benefit and avoid long-term problems statewide.
While Alabama’s water resources are abundant, they are not unlimited; they must be carefully managed to meet long term needs. The absence of a clear plan for accounting for and allocating the state’s water jeopardizes our water security and environment. The Alabama Rivers Alliance is diligently working to make a comprehensive water plan a reality for Alabama.