Alabama needs a water policy
Rep. Ron Grantland, Guest columnist
Summer is a great time to be near the water. Whether it's swimming, boating, or just lounging nearby, spending time by water is a nice way to beat the grueling summer heat, and can provide a good time for everyone. Our state, known as the "River State," has more navigable waterways than any other state in the nation. From the 770,000 miles of rivers and streams to the 490,000 acres of ponds and lakes, plus our access to the Gulf of Mexico, one of our state's principle resources is our water.
As communities around our state and nation continue to grow and expand, the need for more water becomes more prevalent than ever. Nowhere is this better evidenced than by the massive growth around the Atlanta metro area.
Atlanta is one of our nation's fastest growing cities, and unfortunately, it is also located at the beginning of some of Alabama's most important watersheds. As Atlanta continues to grow, their need for water grows as well. Because Atlanta pulls heavily from water located nearby, the city is forced to take more water from Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Chattahoochee Rivers.
Alabama, Florida, and Georgia disagree about how much water from each river should be used in each state.These water wars have been the subject of litigation for the last 16 years, with the most recent court decision taking place last week.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Alabama and Florida's challenge to a 2005 Court of Appeals ruling that allowed Atlanta to use more water from the Chattahoochee River. The Appellate court ruling reversed a decision by an Alabama federal district court, which blocked Atlanta from taking additional water from the Chattahoochee.
This decision will definitely have an adverse impact on our state. The ruling could allow Atlanta to take up to 50 percent more water from the river, which is million gallons of water each day. As more water is taken, the flow of these important rivers is reduced substantially, causing significantly less water flow downstream. Reduced river levels negatively affect the recruitment of industry, navigation of the waterways, and recreational use of the river. Less flow of water also leaves our rivers more susceptible to the large amounts of pollutants and hazardous waste flowing from Atlanta.
In a dispute between two states, a Federal court will typically balance the laws and policies of the states and weigh which policy has the most sufficient legal outcome. The Supreme Court refused to hear arguments because Alabama doesn't have a guiding water policy. Georgia's water policy, while detrimental to our state, was nonetheless state law; Alabama had no law to backup its complaints.
If Alabama ever needed a water conservation policy, last week was definitely the time. Had Alabama been able to argue the effects of our state law versus the effects of Georgia's law, our state may have been successful in its campaign to stop Georgia from taking our water.
Hopefully in the near future, the governor's office will address the problem and lead a charge for statewide water protection, as he promised to do when he took office in 2003.
Water is one of our most precious natural resources, but water is also a limited resource.
and the time of waiting for future action is over. We must act now to protect and conserve one of our state's largest assets, and to ensure that our children have access to the treasures of the River State for years to come.