Water wars for real in North Alabama
The Blount County Water Authority's attempt to build a pipeline to the Tennessee River now appears to have been as much an act of desperation as it was a business venture.
Inland Lake in southeast Blount County is a 1,532-acre reservoir of good, clean water with limited public access that makes it somewhat exclusive. Birmingham and the Works Projects Administration bought the rich river bottomland and built the lake to supply the city.
Since 1939, Inland Lake has been an important water source for Birmingham. But as Birmingham grows, so does its thirst. So, Birmingham now wants to build a second pipeline to suck an additional 13 million gallons per day from Inland, and increase its short-term take to 60 million gallons per day.
As a result, a major fight is brewing. Blount County bought strips of land to block the second pipeline, and Birmingham is threatening to take the land by eminent domain.
It's not just the loss of water that upsets Blount officials; they want Birmingham to pay for it and the 47 million gallons already going out.
Blount wants legislation to mandate a 50-cent fee per thousand gallons on any water taken from its lakes and tributaries. Present volume from Inland alone would amount to more than $8 million in revenue.
Enter state Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville. He's the guy who sponsored Marshall County's local legislation to keep the Blount water authority from removing water from Lake Guntersville and selling it to Jefferson County, apparently to stop a new raid on Inland.
Well, he's now advising Blount officials on how to protect their water as they fight a rear-guard action to keep one of the county's greatest natural resources.
The dispute is another reminder that the counties along the Tennessee River must take the initiative in shaping any local, state and national policy that might take water from the river.
More attempts are coming as surely as Blount and Jefferson counties are fighting over relatively small Inland Lake.