AU Hosts Water Policy Symposium

Acknowledging the crucial role water plays in sustaining Alabamians and supporting future development, Governor Bentley established a task force in 2012, known as the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group (AWAWG), charged with developing policy options for a comprehensive water management plan for the State. This would be the FIRST such plan developed for the wise management of Alabama’s waters. The AWAWG consists of representatives from five key agencies in Alabama that deal with the management of water and water resources, including the:

  • Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs – Office of Water Resources,
  • Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries,
  • Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources,
  • Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and,
  • Geological Survey of Alabama.
Bennett Bearden updating the crowd on AWAWG efforts

The AU symposium was one of a series of symposia being held statewide as a part of the ongoing efforts in developing a comprehensive water management plan for Alabama. The Alabama Rivers Alliance (ARA) has provided leadership in organizing these symposia, which serve as the primary forum to gather stakeholder input into the plan development. Each symposium concentrates on a specific water management theme.  The theme of the AU symposium was ‘science-based water planning and policy.’ Sponsors included the ARA, the Auburn University Water Resources Center, the Alabama Water Watch and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

Click here for AU Symposium Agenda

The symposium began in the morning under the moderation of Dr. Sam Fowler, Director of the AU Water Resources Center, with a welcome from Dr. William Batchelor, Dean of the College of Agriculture at AU, and host of the symposium, held in Comer Hall Auditorium. Dr. Batchelor emphasized the crucial role that water plays in sustaining our population here in the U.S. and around the world. He stated that agricultural production of food is dependent on the availability of water, and the demand for both will increase significantly in the coming decades.

Mitch Reid, Program Director at ARA, followed the Dean with a brief synopsis of the formation of the AWAWG and progress made over the past several months. Mitch emphasized that wise water management boils down to two things: establishing water security and water sustainability, neither of which we have currently.

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, followed Mitch. Bennett was appointed by Governor Bentley in April 2012 to serve as chair of the AWAWG. As chair, he has provided the AWAWG with constructive resolution of emerging challenges at the intersection of water policy and law, emphasizing strategic counseling, crisis management, creative dispute resolution and enhanced relations with stakeholders and community groups.

Bennett began his presentation by reviewing the primary drivers of water policy up to this point – crisis situations, including 1) droughts, and 2) the ongoing Water Wars. He pointed out that EVERY state in the Southeast that borders Alabama already has developed a state water management plan, even Mississippi. He noted that Governor Bentley ran for office on a platform of jobs and economic development and he firmly believes that this platform can be balanced with aquatic ecosystem management through the development and implementation of a state water management plan.

Bennett presented five good reasons to consider developing water-use regulations outlined by Lance LeFleur, Director of 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,
  •  provide predictability [security and certainty] for existing water users, and,
  • avoid competitive disadvantage in attracting new industry” [Lance LeFleur, Director, ADEM, July 13, 2012].

He pointed out that because of the vagaries of common law riparian rights in the State, 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.”

He continued by emphasizing the opportunity that we have before us – to participate in the development of a first-ever comprehensive plan to manage Alabama’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.

The AWAWG initiative, through the assistance of the ARA, has established a dialogue on water policy in the State with government and stakeholders. Stakeholder comments provide insight into the issues that are important in consensus building through the process of water diplomacy. Bennett clarified that although analysis of stakeholder comments and development of policy options are underway, the stakeholder comment period has been extended to December 1, 2013. He concluded by encouraging the 100+ attendees to stay in touch with AWAWG efforts by periodically checking in at the AWAWG web site:  www.adeca.alabama.gov/AWAWG, and if they had not done so, to submit comments to aid in guiding the formation of the State’s water management efforts.

Symposium participants were provided a tasty barbeque lunch complements of the AU Water Resources Center, while listening to the keynote, James Giattina, Director of the Water Protection Division of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 4 Office in Atlanta, Georgia.  He is responsible for planning, coordinating and implementing all Regional EPA water programs related to the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act. Mr. Giattina gave a synopsis of key developments of water policy in the U.S. and pointed out some evolving tools to aid in science-based water resource management. He stressed that the starting point for any water management effort should be based around 1) conservation, and 2) efficiency.

After lunch, Cindy Lowry, Executive Director of the ARA, moderated over presentations highlighting current research efforts at Auburn University focused on water resources management. All five AU presenters had been featured in the recently published ‘Auburn Speaks on Water’ (see http://auburnspeaks.squarespace.com for more information). Speakers included Dr. Graeme Lockaby (School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences), Dr. Puneet Srivastava (Department of Biosystems Engineering), Dr. Sam Fowler (AU Water Resources Center), Dr. Christopher Anderson (School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences), and Dr. Bill Deutsch (Alabama Water Watch/Global Water Watch). Topics included:

  • Conversion of Forest to Urban Cover in Aquifer Recharge Zones: Effects on Drinking Water Quality and Willingness to Pay for Protection,
  • How Climate Change Could Affect Alabama’s Rainfall—And Why It Matters,
  • Watering Alabama’s Rural Economy: The Alabama Universities Irrigation Initiative,
  • Watershed Services: The Ecology, Business, Politics, and Social Impacts of Managing Inland Water Systems,
  • Alabama Water Watch and Global Water Watch: Models of Community-Based Watershed Stewardship.

Full descriptions of these topics can be found in the newly published ‘Auburn Speaks on Water.’

The final session of the symposium was reserved for the 100+ participants to submit their concerns and comments to be considered in the ongoing development of the State water plan. Submitted comments are being compiled and reviewed by the AWAWG, and used in the drafting of State water management policies. The symposium was adjourned with a fun-filled door-prize drawing for hats, T-shirts, books, posters and gift cards donated by local watershed steward groups including Save Our Saugahatchee, Lake Harding Homeowners Association, Lake Watch of Lake Martin, Lake Wedowee Property Owners Association, Lake Martin Resource Association and the AU Student Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, all of whom work throughout the year to preserve and protect Alabama’s waters.

SYMPOSIUM PRESENTATIONS:

New Directions in Water Policy: Overview of the AWAWG Efforts in Developing Alabama’s Water Management Plan, Bennett Bearden – Click Here

Alabama  Water Policy Symposium: State-wide water plans and the Clean Water Act, Jim Giattina – Click Here

Alabama Rivers Alliance article – Click Here