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A Publication of The League of Women Voters of Greater Birmingham

Published August 2007

Report of the Alabama Water Agenda - Part 2

Wilting flower iconEarlier this year, the Alabama Rivers Alliance and Southern Environmental Law Center released "Alabama Water Agenda:  Guiding the Way to Healthy Waters".  This is a very readable report which can be downloaded at www.AlabamaWaterAgenda.com

Last month we discussed Alabama's abundant water resources and challenges faced by the state regarding these resources.  This month we will summarize those threats and suggest possible policy initiatives or changes to current policies that will protect all aspects of our water's health.

     A.  Agency coordination and enhancement:  Since Alabama has no one agency charged with oversight of health and abundance of our water resources, implementing executive and legislative requirements for inter-agency cooperation is key.  The multiple agencies with some authority for water must have clear decision-making processes which require public participation, open dialogue with the public and other agencies, and accountability.

     B.  Enforcement:  Agencies need sufficient authority and funding from the legislature to ensure adequate enforcement and enforcement personnel.  In addition, Alabama needs a better way to apply state fines and fees towards water protection and restoration.  The public also needs better access to information concerning environmental violations and resulting fines.

    C.  Funding:  Our current state programs that monitor and protect our waters are significantly underfunded.  Since most state agencies get their annual budgets through the General Fund, we must talk with our legislators about increasing appropriations to state agencies responsible for our water resources.  At the same time, agencies should aggressively apply for appropriate federal matching funds.

    D.  Instream flow:  Alabama needs a watershed protection approach to develop a comprehensive statewide policy concerning instream flow.  Such a policy must include the following components:  statewide regulation of interbasin transfers, an improved permitting system for water withdrawals, programs to conserve water, a drought management plan, and better flow regimes for new and existing dams.  Such a policy will also put Alabama in a better position to negotiate with other states regarding water flow.

    E.  Stormwater:  Since stormwater is the leading cause of poor water quality in Alabama as well as flooding, controlling this threat is vital.  Controls include improving permits for stormwater discharges, land use practices that encourage stormwater treatment and reduction, and developing state guidance for local ordinances.

    F.  Suburban sprawl:  Unbridled growth affects waters but also our economy and quality of life.  Land use policy, including the principles of sustainable design and development, can result in "smart growth".  One way to encourage smart growth is to allow local governments more authority for zoning and development policies.  At the same time, watershed-based planning often requires cooperation among multiple governments.  One way to promote better planning and development is to provide economic incentives to minimize the negative impacts on Alabama waters from unsustainable development.

(This is summarized from The Alabama Water Agenda, published by the Alabama Rivers Alliance and Southern Environmental Law Center, Jan 07)

-- Leonette Slay
Environmental Chair
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