MONTGOMERY — Gov. Kay Ivey this month dismantled a group charged with creating a statewide water management plan, upsetting activists who want a strategy for water usage.
Former Gov. Robert Bentley created the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group in 2012. It included several state agencies as well some environmental groups.
“We need to plan for when we have times of shortages,” said Cindy Lowry, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, pointing to the drought in 2016. Bentley banned campfires and outdoor grills then, but didn’t have a plan to make anyone cut back on water usage.
No one monitors the total amount of water taken from rivers by multiple users in industrial areas, Lowry said, or the impact of those withdrawals downstream.
The group, known as AWAWG, was charged with gathering input from groups with varied interest and concerns about water supplies, including agriculture and industry. Bentley’s office originally said there should be by the end of 2013 a statewide water management action plan that “protects proper existing uses of water while equitably managing the various demands on the state’s water.”
But other agencies are looking at water usage and a possible plan, state officials said this week, and work will continue.
In July, Ivey dismantled 18 state task forces, councils and commissions created by Bentley, who resigned April 10 and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor campaign finance violations.
“Similar to the disbanding of other task forces earlier this year, Gov. Ivey has chosen to rely on the Office of Water Resources within ADECA, which was created by statute to tackle the same issues as AWAWG, and believes that is where this function should reside,” Ivey spokesman Daniel Sparkman said this week.
In a letter explaining why she was ending the task force, Ivey said its work could be done by another group, the Alabama Water Resource Commission, whose members are appointed by state leaders, including the governor.
In 1990, the Water Resources Act gave the Office of Water Resources, under the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, the responsibility to develop an Alabama Water Management Plan. But 27 years later, Alabama doesn’t have a tangible plan, Lowry and others said this week.
In her letter, Ivey also said recent water assessments show “the waters of the state appear to meet both current and future needs for some time to come.”
“Less than a year after one of the worst droughts in the history of our state, the Governor’s decision to put the brakes on an already overdue and lengthy process to establish a comprehensive water management plan sets all of Alabama back in the progress that’s been made to date,” Sarah Stokes, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, said in a statement this week. “In her letter to the AWAWG chair, the Governor states she will rely on the current policies, which have been consistently ineffective in the past. These policies do not ensure any protection during droughts, nor do they ensure that statewide water users are using our limited resources efficiently.”
Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, said two studies of the state’s water supply will be released soon.
“The results of these assessment reports will provide a significant baseline of data and information to guide the process for any enhancements to water resources planning and management under the Alabama Water Resources Act,” Boswell said this week.
He said work on a water plan will continue, if funded.
Based on the results of the assessment reports and work already done by AWAWG, ADECA wants to propose the development of a water management plan that includes an overview of the state's water resources, summaries of current water usage, existing water management policies and recommendations for additional policy needs.
Developing that plan, if funded by the Legislature, would cost about $2 million and take about three years, Boswell said. He also said stakeholders will have input in any plan.
Lowry said AWAWG was still several years from a water plan, but was making progress.
“Maybe the progress was starting to make people nervous, people who want the status quo,” she said.