A statewide partnership seeking a comprehensive water policy for Alabama will hold its fourth Water Management Planning Symposium at the University of Alabama Huntsville, Friday, June 28, to inform Alabamians about current progress and also to solicit public comment.

The symposium will be held in the Shelby Center, 301 Sparkman Drive, on the UAH campus from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Each symposium concentrates on a specific water management theme. Irrigation will be the theme of this symposium.

Sam Fowler, director of the Auburn University Water Resources Center and a symposium organizer, encourages anyone — citizens, stakeholder and elected officials — interested in the discussion and development of a comprehensive water policy to attend.

Among the highlights of the morning session, Dick McNider, UAH Distinguished Professor Emeritus, will provide an overview of the irrigation issue in Alabama.

Following McNider’s remarks, Glen Zorn, of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, will highlight the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group’s efforts toward drafting a statewide water policy.

Former Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby, a producer who incorporates irrigation in his row-crop farming operation, will discuss how this practice is benefiting his operation.

John McMillan, Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries, will deliver the symposium’s keynote address at 12:30 p.m.

Among the afternoon speakers, John Christy, director of the UAH Earth System Science Center, will discuss the traditional eastern and western perspectives on irrigation. His remarks will be followed by presentations dealing with crop modeling and hydrologic monitoring and off-stream/on-farm reservoirs.

Later in the afternoon, speakers will discuss the relationship of irrigation with water quality and flood plain preservation.

The Alabama irrigation story is a tragic one of missed opportunities, Fowler says. In fact, in a state that receives roughly 55 inches of rainfall annually, row-crop production has declined by millions of acres within the last half century.

The state’s rural localities have suffered especially acutely from this decline, he says. While row-crop farming typically generates an estimated $500 to $900 an acre each year within local rural economies, the timber farming and conservation set-asides that have replaced it in many rural localities within the last 50 years generate less than $100 an acre.

Falling behind neighboring states

Following a decade-long, comprehensive investigation into this issue, a team of researchers representing several Alabama universities concluded that the agricultural sector’s failure to make full use of its rainfall and irrigation potential accounts in large measure for its loss of competitiveness in row-crop production compared with neighboring southern states.

“While Alabama has fewer than 120,000 acres of row crop irrigation, the neighboring states of Georgia and Mississippi each have well over a million acres under irrigation,” Fowler says.

With adequate levels of irrigation adoption, there is no reason why Alabama could not compete favorably with the regions of the country most prized for row-crop output — the West and Midwest, he says.

The symposium is sponsored by the Flint River Conservation Association, the Coalition for a Green Huntsville, Auburn University’s Water Resources Center, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, the Alabama Chapter Sierra Club, and the Huntsville Canoe Club.

The symposium is free. Lunch will be served and refreshments will be available during the breaks. To learn more about the symposium and to register, visit: http://www.alabamarivers.org/events/alabama-water-policy-symposia/huntsville-water-policy-symposium.

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