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State won't block Cullman pipeline; area water withdrawal study begins

By Eric Fleischauer 340-2435

The state chief of water management says he doubts he'll do anything to stop a proposed pipeline that would take water from the Tennessee River to Cullman County.

But his agency is beginning a comprehensive study of water usage in the Tennessee River basin.

"We just make sure (the pipeline) complies with the law," said Tom Littlepage, chief of the water management section in the state Office of Water Resources. "There are exclusions (in the Morgan County law) that probably make the transfer legal."

Littlepage spoke Monday at the Rotary Club of Decatur.

The Cullman County Commission is purchasing 26 acres along the Tennessee River, near Valhermoso Springs. The sale will give the Cullman County Water Department the ability to obtain up to 16 million gallons of water from the river within about five years.

Littlepage said his organization has no authority to bar an otherwise legal transfer.

A 2006 local law restricted water transfers from the Tennessee River in Morgan County but authorized limited transfers to Cullman County, provided the water was solely for Cullman County use.

Littlepage said after his speech that he thought local water-use laws like the one for Morgan County — and similar ones passed for Marshall, Jackson, Madison, Colbert and Lawrence counties — complicate the possibility of creating a statewide plan.

He said his agency is just beginning a comprehensive study of water usage in the Tennessee River basin. The study, which will include data on water transfers like the one Cullman County is pursuing, will be part of a statewide study.

"We're looking at withdrawal (of water from the Tennessee River), system capacities and future demands," Littlepage said. "We're looking at where the pinch points are, and especially looking at the movement of water to Atlanta and Birmingham."

He said most usage data comes from declarations of beneficial use, which are forms heavy water users must file annually with the state. Public water systems must track their usage, along with all others that have the capacity to use 100,000 gallons per day.

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