Governor Bentley Finally Releases Alabama Water Management Plan Report

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A kayaker on the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, Georgia: Glynn Wilson

By Glynn Wilson

Now that the Alabama Legislative Session of 2014 is safely over and Governor Robert Bentley is virtually assured of winning the Republican Party’s primary in June without any tea party opposition from the far right, Bentley’s office finally released the water management plan report being sought by environmental groups for the past two years.

At the behest of environmental groups like the Sierra Club and the Alabama Rivers Alliance two years ago, Bentley formed the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group in 2012 to recommend a statewide water management action plan to protect the state legally in water wars disputes with Georgia and Florida.

“Water is one of Alabama’s vital natural resources, and it must be managed and protected,” Governor Robert Bentley said in a press release announcing the release of the policy report. “A statewide water management plan is important because water is needed for economic development, public health, drought mitigation, recreation, and environmental uses. I appreciate the members of the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group working together to study the water resources in our state.”

The group was comprised of experts from five state agencies, including the Alabama Office of Water Resources (a division of the Department of Economic and Community Affairs), the Department of Environmental Management, the Geological Survey of Alabama, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture and Industries.

In response to the Governor’s 2012 directive to develop a plan, the working group took the following actions. It analyzed the state’s current water management strategies and issues, compiled available water resources data and identified additional data necessary to provide a more complete understanding of the state’s water resources.

It reviewed past studies, such as the 1990 report on Water for a Quality of Life, and evaluated the implementation status of the report’s recommendations. It solicited and evaluated stakeholder comments on a range of water issues that could be included in a water management plan.

It recommended a process and action plan for moving toward an enhanced statewide water management plan. Part I of the report presents the working group’s response to the governor’s directive and proposes the Alabama Water MAP Process as the state’s mechanism for developing and implementing an initial comprehensive statewide water management plan.

“Assessments are underway and will continue in order to base future water policies on thorough scientific data,” the governor’s announcement said.

Part II of the report presents discussion and policy options for 12 water issue areas identified by the working group.

The Southern Environmental Law Center and Alabama Rivers Alliance released a joint statement last week in response to the announcement.

“After years of advocating for a comprehensive water plan to strengthen Alabama’s position for negotiating the water needs of local communities, businesses, and ecosystems, we support the Governor’s decision to move ahead with the report,” said Mitch Reid of Alabama Rivers Alliance. “This is a crucial step toward protecting the streams, rivers and lakes that provide for this great state.”

Throughout decades of a tri-state water conflict and ongoing litigation with Georgia and Florida, Alabama has remained the only state of the three without a comprehensive water plan. The environmental groups, along with the Sierra Club, have continued to work alongside elected officials and state agencies to provide stakeholder input on the plan.

The groups’ recommendations include implementing a robust stakeholder process that brings all water users to the table, decreasing reliance on expensive, large-scale projects like reservoirs and dams that severely disrupt the ecological balance of rivers and streams in favor of improved conservation and efficiency efforts, and implementing flow standards to better protect the rivers and streams as well as all water users throughout the watersheds.

“Access to clean water is a luxury often taken for granted, and it is essential that the state take an active role in safeguarding the water sources its citizens use to drink, recreate, and farm with,” said Gil Rogers of the Southern Environmental Law Center. “We look forward to reviewing the Governor’s report.”

Interested parties can check out a copy of the water resources report online here.

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Gov. Robert Bentley announces release of water management plan report

© 2014, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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