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Group pushes for statewide water policy

By M.J. Ellington· (334)-262-1104

MONTGOMERY — Even with water all around us, Alabama will have a natural resource crisis unless the state adopts a comprehensive water use policy, say two environmental groups advocating for a policy.

In a statewide Alabama Water Agenda released Tuesday, representatives of the Alabama Rivers Alliance and the Southern Environmental Law Center say the Chattahoochee, which runs along the Alabama-Georgia border, is the most at-risk river in the Alabama because of demands on the river from Georgia. The agenda says the Tennessee River is the second most at-risk river because of threats from groups that want to take water from the river basin to other areas.

Suburban development and growing water demands, coupled with low agency funding and inadequate staffing together pose the greatest threats to the state’s rivers, groundwater, wetlands and coastal waters.

But the state’s low funding levels for state agencies responsible for water use policy development and oversight are on a list of greatest threats to the future health of state waters. Unlike surrounding states, Alabama does not have a comprehensive water use plan and agencies working on a plan have small staffs and inadequate budgets, say water quality advocates.

April Hall, a watershed protection analyst with the rivers alliance, said the need for the local Tennessee River protection bills adopted for counties along the river in 2005 and 2006 is a symptom of the statewide problem that calls for a comprehensive state solution.

Tuesday, Hall and Gil Rogers, with the law center, unveiled the Alabama Water Agenda, which outlines threats and long-term steps to help restore and protect state waters for the future.

“Alabama cannot properly deal with water protection and use needs without greater funding,” said Hall, who is based in Birmingham. She called on the Legislature to look for additional appropriations for the effort.

Laws like the Tennessee River bills may give immediate protections to counties along the river in Alabama, and give some peace of mind for the immediate future. But Hall said stopgap bills do not address broader questions for the whole state. Those issues include long-term water use, transfer of water from one river basin to another, pollution control, penalties for violations, navigation and the demand for water sharing with surrounding states.

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