Officials consider moving forward with state water management plan
by David Atchison
PELL CITY — Local and state officials met Tuesday morning to discuss how to move forward with providing input for a proposed statewide water management plan.

“I didn’t realize every state around us has a water management plan,” said Randy Smith, a member of the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association, who organized the meeting at the Pell City Civic Center Tuesday. “We’re going to change that.”

LMLPA organizers provided book binders to attendees Tuesday with information about the “water emergency” Alabama and surrounding states have experienced, along with the issues facing Alabama with developing a comprehensive water management plan for the state.

Last year Gov. Robert Bentley formed a group of representatives from five state agencies, the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group, and tasked them with developing a statewide water management plan.

The Alabama Water Agencies Working Group is composed of representatives from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Geological Survey of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, and the Office of Water Resources in the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs.

Recent droughts, moderate to extreme, population growth, economic development and almost two decades of court battles between Georgia, Florida and Alabama over water in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basins have highlighted the value of a shared natural resource — water.

“It’s important for us to have a strong committee with a strong voice that is heard,” LMLPA president Mike Riley said.

He pointed to the pending legal battle in federal courts concerning the Atlanta metro area’s desire to withdraw millions of gallons of water a day from the ACT, which could affect downstream users, including Logan Martin Lake residents.

“We have to have a good water policy in place to stand our ground in the courts,” Riley said.

Pell City Mayor Bill Hereford, who was one of about a dozen local officials in St. Clair and Talladega counties to attend the meeting, said it was inevitable that a statewide water management plan is developed.

“It’s going to happen, one way or another,” he said. “Either we do it or the courts are going to do it.”

State Reps. Randy Wood, R-Anniston, and Dr. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, St. Clair County Commission chairman Stan Batemon, and Lincoln Councilman Bud Kitchin also attended the committee meeting, which must make any recommendations for the water management plan to AWAWG by next month.

“I have charged the AWAWG with providing recommendations by Dec. 1, 2013, for a statewide water management plan that is based on sound science and that takes into account the diverse needs of stakeholders,” Bentley wrote in his Aug. 30, 2012, letter to the LMLPA. “To this end, I have directed the AWAWG to gather and assess data pertaining to our state’s water resources and to work with groups that represent, at a minimum, economic, industrial, utility, public drinking water supply, public safety, recreational, environmental, ecological and agricultural interests.”

Riley said it is important that LMLPA and local officials participate in the process of developing a water management plan for the state so local interests are protected.

“We need a large and loud voice from this group,” Riley told those who attended the meeting Tuesday.

The group does not have much time to make recommendations to AWAWG.

“By Nov. 1, 2012, I encourage you to provide written comments to a member of the AWAWG detailing the key issues that you would like a statewide water management plan to address,” Bentley wrote in his letter to the LMLPA.

At Tuesday’s meeting, McClendon suggested that the local committee look at other water management policies for ideas.

“We need to look at the surrounding states and see how they have handled it,” he said.

Batemon said the committee also needs to know how the plan will be implemented, by statute or by regulation from a state agency.

“I think that will help provide a direction for us,” he said.

Riley said LMLPA’s main concern is the health and well being of Logan Martin Lake.

“We have to make sure we protect our lake,” he said.

The local committee is expected to meet again in about two weeks, after committee members review documents provided by AWAWG concerning water management issues in Alabama.

Contact David Atchison at datchison@dailyhome.com.

© 2012