I’m starting to wonder if it’s ever going to stop raining. Every week there is a new deluge. Every week I get pushed further and further back from the start of the guide season. But then I remember that we really need the rain to bring the water table up. But what happens when it doesn’t rain?
The obvious answer is that we have a drought. I don’t think that any of us have to think back very far to remember a year where the state was parched. Luckily for us we live in a very wet state. So even though our smaller streams were drying up and we lost a few ponds, we still had the water that we needed for daily life. None of our businesses suffered for the lack of water. But could that way of life be threatened? Could the water we need to continue growth in the state be at a loss?
The answer is yes. I called up Mitch Reid, the Program Director of the Alabama River Alliance, to see what new projects they were working on. What he told me really made me take a step back. I had expected a nice conversation about the rally they were having in Fish River coming up or maybe about a river restoration, or just something, really kind of small. Instead what he told me concerned the water for the entire state.
I think we all know about the water war that we have been having with Georgia. Most may even know that in 2009 we won our case against Georgia.
As a result Georgia was blocked from taking more water from the rivers that flow into our state. What I didn’t know was that in July of this past year Georgia appealed the decision and won. Mitch went further to tell me just why we had lost. The reason was infuriating. We lost because we didn’t have a plan for our water. All we could say as a state was that it had been our water and that we needed it. When asked how much we needed, what we needed it for and why we needed that water more than Georgia, we didn’t have an answer.
The court had to do the most reasonable thing and side with Georgia. The reason is that as precedence in dealing with such cases, the court must side with the party that can show the greatest need. We were unable to do so.
To kind of understand what we are up against, the state of Georgia began developing a water plan in ‘04 that takes not just the water from the rivers into consideration but also the ground water in the state. It was set up so that they could give cities like Atlanta the water they needed and continue growth within the state. It gave them the ability to understand the needs of water throughout their state so that they could also protect their natural resources. In 2008 they had finalized the plan and this past year in 2011, they implemented their plan. Not only has it been successful for the people of Georgia, it managed to trounce what little we could bring to bear in Alabama.
Now before I go into what the implications of our inactivity could be, let me say this. We are the only state without a water management plan. Tennessee, Florida, and Mississippi all have a water management plan. Have we known that we needed a plan? The answer is yes. As a matter of fact in 1990, Governor Hunt put together a committee to see what would happen if we were faced with a major drought. What they discovered was that not only would Alabama’s farms, industries, and rivers suffer, but with each passing day without rain we would come closer to a point where Alabama could not support any new industrial presence without harming the previous infrastructure. In other words, in terms of the ability to have growth, Alabama would become a dead state.
What really scared me was thinking about the days to follow should we still receive no rain.
Now it is obvious that right now we are not under a drought and that this isn’t a pressing issue at this time. But in 2007 it was an issue – during that drought year and in that time the legislature formed the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee for Water Policy and Management. Their job is to put together a comprehensive water management plan that would protect and manage the water resources of the state. Right now they are working toward this goal, but they need help. They need the help of the Governor and his office.
Their plan will not only take into affect the rivers that we share with other states but also the ground water we use for our wells. One of the goals of the plan would be to make sure that our state’s water is used as efficiently as possible. They will be suggesting changes in farming along the lines of how we irrigate. Changes on how our wells are done and how much water we can take from a system without causing it permanent harm. Also they want to be able to move water from basin to basin without causing permanent harm to either one. The reason that they want to be able to make these changes is so that we as a state can get the most benefit out of our resources without endangering them.
From what Mitch tells me, they seem to be on board. I certainly hope that this is the case, because in the near future the State of Georgia, which has a blank check, is going to try to write it out. There are now plans for 31 new reservoirs in Georgia ranging in size from Hidden Lake above Birmingham, to Lake Lanier in Georgia. Three such reservoirs are dealing with the Coosa and Tallapoosa. Guess what folks, the water they use, we won’t get back and imagine what that will do to the Alabama River. The truth is that we only have two rivers in the state that are truly ours, rivers where we don’t have to worry about other states being able to take a slice of the pie; the Black Warrior and the Cahaba River.
Now groups like The Alabama River Alliance and many others would really like to see a plan brought forth in the next year and after that see steps taken to put this plan into action. It’s one thing to be up a creek with no paddle, it’s a whole other thing to be up a creek with no water.