Agriculture & Industries Commissioner Ron Sparks has announced that a Statewide Drought Monitoring System will be established throughout Alabama. This will be the first time such a system has been implemented in Alabama.

Drought is a devastating climatic condition that affects every aspect of life. Alabama experiences a severe or extreme drought approximately every 13 years with the duration of each drought event lasting from one to seven years. Drought and its effects can be catastrophic for farmers, industries, water supply, and wildlife. The ability to accurately determine the magnitude and to predict the onset or duration of a drought event is extremely important. This can be accomplished by drought monitoring.

A network of five observation wells which transmit ground water level data on a real-time basis through satellite telemetry will begin operating July 1, 2006. Four wells will be located in Baldwin, Dekalb, Franklin and Lawrence, and Covington and Coffee Counties. The fifth well will be located in a county in Central Alabama. The locations were chosen because they are constructed in aquifer recharge areas and are in areas of extensive agricultural land use.

The ultimate goal of this project is to establish a network of 25 wells over a five-year period which will provide information that allows observation of the onset and duration of drought conditions in ground water.

“This drought monitoring system will provide valuable information that can be used to determine when a drought may occur and for how long,” said Sparks. “It could be a tremendous help to anyone in the agricultural industry that relies on water to grow or produce their products. As we increase the number of wells, we improve our chances of helping to prepare for drought and maybe even prevent it in the future.”

Approximately 40 percent of Alabama’s water supplies are withdrawn from the state’s ground water resources providing approximately 100 percent of the water used for rural domestic supplies and 34 percent of the water used for public supplies. In addition, more than 33 percent of the water used for agricultural purposes is withdrawn from wells. Much of the flow in streams and the water in lakes and wetlands are sustained by the discharge of ground water particularly during periods of dry weather.

A comprehensive drought monitoring program utilizes temperature, evaporation, precipitation, soil moisture, surface water levels, and shallow ground water levels to accurately monitor drought conditions. No single data set is adequate for this purpose. Ground water monitoring is a vital component of a system that assesses indications of drought to assist with water management decisions.

Natural discharge from shallow aquifers provides base flow to streams and sustains the water in lakes and wetlands particularly during periods of dry weather. Therefore, declining shallow ground water levels are important indicators of drought conditions. This network will provide data that allow observation of the onset of drought conditions and indications of the duration and severity of drought.

The purpose and objectives of this project will be to establish a network of continuous-recording water level monitoring wells in selected areas in Alabama to monitor the effects of drought and other climate variability on ground water levels as part of a comprehensive drought monitoring effort. In addition, the system can monitor short-term variability and long-term trends in water levels to determine the effects of climatic variability on ground water recharge and storage.

Senator Lowell Barron of Dekalb County thanked Commissioner Sparks for what he is doing to protect our water resources and to help Alabama farmers. “I have seen the devastating effects a severe drought has on our drinking water supplies, the crops and our farmers' finances,” said Barron. “Having access to the vital information this monitoring system will provide will help alert us to the need to conserve our water resources before it becomes an emergency situation. It also will help our farmers better plan the planting and maintenance of their crops, and be better prepared to handle the long-term effects of a severe drought.”

Several governmental agencies have been working together to establish the statewide drought monitoring system. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, the Choctawhatchee, Pea and Yellow Rivers Watershed Management Authority, the Office of Water Resources at ADECA, the Geological Survey of Alabama, and the United States Geological Survey are funding the project.

Commissioner Sparks would like to thank the legislators in the districts where the wells will be located for supporting this initial implementation of the drought monitoring system: House Speaker Seth Hammett, Rep. Warren Beck, Rep. Terry Spicer, Rep. Jody Letson, Rep. Jack Page, Rep. Frank White, Rep. Greg Albritton, Rep. Alan Boothe, Rep. Randy Davis, Rep. Todd Greeson, Rep. Richard Lindsey, Sen. Lowell Barron, Sen. Roger Bedford, Sen. Jimmy Holley, Sen. Zeb Little, Sen. Bradley Byrne, and Sen. Gary Tanner