“And the legislature has shown support for providing incentives for farmers who irrigate. We have a great opportunity to do it right. But if we don’t do it right, there will be a lot of problems.”

The degree to which Alabama’s water management plan addresses irrigation will be critical in avoiding these problems, he adds.

Bennett Bearden, general counsel for the Geological Survey of Alabama (GSA) and special counsel on water law and policy for the Office of the State Geologist, told symposium attendees a crisis or crises always drive water policy.

In the case of Alabama, the crises include drought and the ongoing “water wars” with Georgia and Florida, says Bearden, who is chairman of the AWAWG.

He also pointed out that every state in the Southeast that borders Alabama already has developed a state water management plan, “even Mississippi.”

Bearden presented five good reasons to consider developing water-use regulations as outlined by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

They include:

• The demand for water in Alabama is increasing and the supply is finite;

• The riparian system currently employed in Alabama has significant disadvantages;

• Alabama may be vulnerable to federal control over water use through EPA if the state does not regulate water use;

• A comprehensive plan provides predictability [security and certainty] for existing water users; and

• A water plan avoids competitive disadvantage in attracting new industry.

 Because of the vagaries of common law riparian rights in Alabama, in combination with the fact that Alabama has no water policy, “citizens are left to the throws of the courtroom and the presiding judge to decide their rights to water according to the vague notion of ‘reasonable use,’” says Bearden.

Alabama has a golden opportunity, he says, by participating in the development of a first-ever comprehensive plan to manage the state’s waters. “The ongoing AWAWG efforts, in conjunction with those of the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management (formed in 2008), represent the first holistic approach to analysis of policy options for the management of Alabama’s water resources in more than 20 years,” says Bearden.

Irrigation will be a major consideration in the state’s water plan, he adds. “Irrigation and agricultural initiatives are important. We need to be doing more in irrigation in Alabama, and it will put a lot of jobs back into our rural economies.”

The availability of clean water resources in the state will either enable or limit the future of balanced economic development and a sustained ecosystem, he says.

To make comments or ask questions about Alabama water policy, go to the following website: water@adeca.alabama.gov.

The symposium was sponsored by Alabama Rivers Alliance, the Auburn University Water Resources Center, Alabama Water Watch, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.


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