• 73°

Water demand exceeds supply

in southeastern Alabama

By BETH LAKEY

Staff Writer

Need for more water in southeast Alabama has been a major topic of discussion the past couple of years as municipalities have enforced restrictions due to last year’s drought conditions and the inability to provide the supply for a growing demand.

Because of those problems, the Geological Survey of Alabama began a study for the Choctawhatchee, Pea and Yellow Rivers Watershed Management Authority (CPYRWMA) in 1997 to find a solution since the entire 10-county area is supplied by groundwater sources only. The 10 counties are Barbour, Bullock, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike.

During a meeting Monday at Troy State University, results of the groundwater portion of the study ­ one of the most comprehensive and detailed geologic investigations ever conducted in the history of the state ­ were presented.

"We in Alabama tend to have false hopes when we see it raining," State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, said during the meeting. "We have problems in southeast Alabama with water."

Boothe, who has watched water levels in his district drop over the years, said everyone in the 10-county area needs to be concerned.

"We’re not where we used to be," Boothe said. "The number one industry in Alabama is agriculture and we need the water. It’s vital."

Barbara Gibson, executive director of CPYRWMA, said three components were considered during the "unique, thorough and extensive" study: evaluation of the adequacy of five possible reservoir sites near the municipalities most likely to have future water supply demands requiring surface water impoundment to augment groundwater sources, a biological assessment of the five possible reservoir sites and an evaluation and assessment of all groundwater resources in the 10 counties.

"We’re proud to be able to co-sponsor this study," Gibson said.

The study evaluated 203,000 feet of subsurface geology from 317 water wells and deep oil and gas wells, which constituted the data from which the 638 miles of cross section within the study area was developed. It also mapped the geological history for the 10-county area for the last 100 million years.

Information gathered from the groundwater study will be critical in developing plans for managing, protecting and conserving ground water resources; potential development of additional deeper aquifers; and planning for long-range alternative sources of water.

Representatives of the Choctawhatchee, Pea and Yellow Rivers Watershed Management Authority said the knowledge gained from the study will be invaluable to farmers, ranchers, drilling contractors, geological and engineering consultants, local and regional water authorities, as well as city, regional and state administrators and planners involved in the development and management of current and future groundwater resources.

"We want this data to be used for something," said Marlon Cook, hydrogeologist with the Geological Survey of Alabama. "This is the future of southeast Alabama."

He said the estimated water use in Alabama during 2001 is approximately 1.7 billion gallons per day. In the 10-county area, about 60 million gallons of water per day are used.

Approximately 40 percent of drinking water in Alabama is from groundwater resources, Cook said, pointing out the importance of the study. In this area, 100 percent of drinking water comes from groundwater resources.

That, he said, is why the study is so valuable. Demand in the 10-county area exceeds supply and growth is needed in order to supply water for the future.

Groundwater, Cook said, is "better" for several reasons. It is of a better quality than surface water, requires little treatment, costs less to provide, is relatively unaffected by short-term climate change.

However, the big negative is there is limited groundwater available.

Funding for the three-year study came from a variety of interested sources: the Watershed Management Authority, Geological Survey of Alabama and donations from the cities of Dothan, Enterprise and Ozark, Dale County Commission, Utilities Board of the city of Ozark and the Coffee County Commission.

The Choctawhatchee, Pea and Yellow Rivers Watershed Management Authority is a state agency created in 1991 with the intent of protecting and managing the watersheds in southeast Alabama.