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Opinion | Alabama: A paradise of water

The primary entity for monitoring Alabama’s water resources is the Office of Water Resources.

Sunset on the Tennessee River
Sunset on the Tennessee River in North Alabama. (STOCK PHOTO)

Alabama is blessed with many natural resources. Water is one of the most important because it is so vital to Alabama’s environment, economy, recreation, biodiversity, and quality of life.

In fact, Alabama has 132,000 miles of rivers and streams as well as large groundwater supplies available for our personal use and recreational enjoyment, for keeping our farming and forestry-based opportunities functioning at optimal levels, and for supporting the industries that provide products and jobs for our residents.

But what do we know about our water resources and who helps the state prepare for extremes such as droughts or floods? Fortunately, there is a plan and a process designed to monitor water data and bring representatives of water-use groups at every level together for their input and perspectives. It has served Alabama well.

The primary entity for monitoring Alabama’s water resources is the Office of Water Resources (OWR), a division of the Alabama Department of Economic Community Affairs (ADECA). OWR is supported by the Geological Survey of Alabama for groundwater assessment and availability.

The OWR was created in 1993 to improve the understanding of how, when, and where water is used and to improve Alabama’sability to negotiate with Georgia, Florida and the US Army Corps of Engineers in the litigation commonly referred to as the“water wars.” The Alabama Water Resources Act tasked the OWR as the lead technical group supporting interstate litigation issues and as the office with the primary responsibility for monitoring statewide water use.

The Act also created an advisory committee to the Governor and Legislature – the Alabama Water Resources Commission (AWRC). The AWRC is composed of 19 members, representing various water uses such as agriculture, industry, water utilities, navigation, and recreation as well as specific regions of the state.Roy McAuley, Executive Director of the Alabama Pulp andPaper Council, currently chairs the Commission.

Times of extremes – droughts or floods – bring greater awareness of Alabama’s water resources. To support drought planning and response, the Alabama Drought Assessment Planning Team (ADAPT) is a committee consisting of state and federal agency representatives, plus representatives from agriculture, forestry, electric utilities, and industry, who are appointed by the Governor. ADAPT advises OWR and the Governor when drought conditions present significant impacts and provides recommendations on responses. ADAPT’s Monitoring and Impact Group Technical Subcommittee meets regularly to evaluate current and anticipated conditions which help guide OWR when it periodically issues an Alabama Drought Declaration.

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Additionally, Alabama has adopted a statewide Drought Management Plan to help guide drought planning and response.The drought plan works, as demonstrated in the 2016 drought; which had a major impact in central Alabama. The frequent communication and coordination under the plan helped water users manage their supplies to ensure availability throughout this period. The process also encourages public and private water users to ensure sustainability by having alternative water supply sources and activating local drought response plans when necessary.

At the other end of the water spectrum is flooding.  OWR plays a major role in the development, modification, and approval of flood risk maps used by local leaders to determine and minimize risk in their communities. They are also important to the management of the National Flood Insurance Program that guides municipalities in the prevention and mitigation of flood impacts to property, homes, and businesses.

Finally, OWR has led Alabama’s efforts to provide reports of water availability and use. These reports help us better understand how water is used and the resulting trends. Total water use in Alabama has not increased in about 40 years, while our population has increased about 25 percent. This is strong evidence that Alabama water users know the importance of our water resources and are working to help ensure that Alabama will continue to be a “Paradise of Water.”

ADECA’s OWR is at the forefront of these efforts to help manage the state’s water resources, and Governor Ivey’s support is appreciated in this continuing effort.

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