Alabama needs a written water policy

By Staff
Rep. Ronald Grantland, Guest Columnist
If this summer of drought has reminded us of one thing, it's that water is precious.
While drought conditions may be slowly improving, many parts of our state are still feeling the results and will for quite some time.
The shortage of water this summer has negatively affected almost everyone. From business owners to weekend vacationers, no one is immune from a water shortage.
Alabama is known as the "River State" and has more navigable waterways than any other state in the nation.
From the 770,000 miles of rivers and streams to the 490,000 acres of ponds and lakes, water is one of our state's principle resources. For Alabama, water is more than a spot for a getaway; water is needed to spark growth, provide power and most importantly, to sustain life.
The lack of rain has made us more aware than ever that water is both precious and limited.
For years, Alabama has fought with our neighboring states on how water from shared sources should be used.
Growing metropolitan areas such as Atlanta are outgrowing their water supply. The growth in Georgia has forced them to pull more water from the watersheds that feed many of Alabama's rivers-millions of gallons each day.
In times of drought like this summer, those millions of gallons can make a huge difference for anything that depends on the water levels of our rivers and lakes. Reduced water levels negatively affect our power grids, farmers needing to irrigate their crops, the recruitment of industry, and the navigation and recreational use of our state waterways. Less water also leaves our rivers and lakes more susceptible to pollutants and hazardous waste
These "water wars" with Georgia and Florida have been the subject of litigation for the last sixteen years, mainly because the federal courts have rejected Alabama's arguments because we have no guiding water policy for the state. Georgia's water policy, while detrimental to our state, is nonetheless state law. Alabama has no controlling law.
To make matters worse, Alabama recently discovered that the Army Corps of Engineers in Georgia has not been following its own reservoir operation manual for Lake Allatoona, outside of Atlanta.
The Corps has withheld nearly 18 billion gallons of water during the drought this summer. Their manual requires the release of two hours of hydropower per day, but the Corps has only met the minimum release requirement on one day during the last four months. Last week, the Corps agreed to increase the water releases from
Lake Allatoona by approximately 200 cubic feet per second and grant a 10 percent reduction in the required minimum flow from Alabama Power projects above Montgomery. Hopefully, this increase will ensure that everyone shares the pain of the current drought equally.
We must employ a comprehensive plan to stop other states from taking our water. Two years ago, Rep. Jeff McLaughlin, D-Guntersville, passed a bill allowing Marshall County to prohibit the transfer of water from the Tennessee River.
Since then, several other Tennessee Valley Democrats have worked to pass similar legislation.
Between the drought, lawsuits, and the recent event with the Corps, it's more obvious than ever that we need a water conservation policy.
Unfortunately, much of the damage has been done to our crops and the amount of electricity that our lakes produce. While we must all do our part to conserve water this summer, real water conservation can only come from a comprehensive sustainable water plan for Alabama.
By implementing a plan, we can ensure that future generations of Alabamians continue to enjoy one of our state's most viable, precious resources.

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