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No water plan
in '08?

Riley says Alabama lawmakers not likely to decide on issue next session

By M.J. Ellington 334-262-1104

MONTGOMERY - Gov. Bob Riley said Tuesday that he does not believe Alabama will have a statewide water plan by 2008.

"There is no question we need it, but it is not something that will happen two weeks from Saturday," Riley said, Tuesday. "I don't think we will have consensus on it in time for this next session."

For years, the Alabama Office of Water Resources worked on portions of a state water plan but changes in directors and gubernatorial administrations slowed the efforts. Some critics say Alabama has not had leadership from the top to move a plan forward.

Riley said he is not sure about the best way to move ahead.

"We actually had discussions recently about whether to let them go ahead with it or put together a consortium (of interest groups) to do it," Riley said.

The severe drought of 2007 brought attention to Alabama's weak link in natural resources management.

Experts say a state plan would help Alabama know how much water comes into different parts of the state and how much water the areas use. The state could plan ways to help areas that do not have enough water to meet needs during drought.

Disagreements heated between Alabama and Georgia again this summer about water rights to a river basin the two states share with Florida. Alabama received criticism for not having a statewide water plan.

Georgia, this state's chief opponent in the water wars of 2007, also does not have a statewide water plan.

But Georgia is much closer to having a plan than Alabama.

Becky Champion, assistant watershed protection chief for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division said her state expects to complete a comprehensive statewide water management plan in December.

A series of public hearings last month gave citizens in that state a chance to comment on the plan. Georgia also has a Web site where people can view the plan.

The plan will go to the Georgia Legislature when lawmakers convene the 2008 session in January, Champion said.

Back in Alabama, some lawmakers say they know Alabama needs a state plan.

Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland, has legislation being drafted for a joint House-Senate committee to look at state options.

Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom's spokesman Chip Hill said people in the lieutenant governor's office met with a group of Auburn University agriculture and natural resources experts Tuesday morning.

"Water shortage is not a short-term issue," Hill said. "We wanted to understand the scope of the issue and what got us to this point."

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