Mitchell advocates statewide water use policy

Published 11:19 am Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Pike County Soil and Water Conservation District was the county host for the Southeast Alabama Soil and Water Conservation District’s annual meeting on Aug. 28. Sen. Wendell Mitchell was the keynote speaker and he presented some eye-popping statistics from the State of Alabama’s water policy committee.

Mitchell told the representatives of the 10-county Southeast Alabama Association of Soil and Water Conservation that a committee was formed this spring to begin formulating a statewide plan for managing water resources.

“From 12 to 15 percent of the rainfall in the United States goes through the state of Alabama by way of our rivers and streams,” Mitchell said. “However, we only use a small percentage of that water. We need to develop a water use plan so that we can avoid a confrontation with other states over our water supply.”

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Mitchell said Alabama has more than 77,000 miles of streams, creeks, rivers and shoreline that translate into about 33.5 trillions gallons of surface water.

“That includes flowing surface water and impounded water such as lakes, reservoirs and ponds,” he said. “Seventeen major rivers and streams flow through Alabama. Ten of these have head water inside the state. Eighteen percent of all surface water flowing through the lower 48 sates flows through Alabama.”

Mitchell said Alabama has 348,826 acres of lakes and reservoirs, 50 miles of coast, 400,000 acres of estuaries and more than three million acres of tidal marshes and wetlands.

“We also have about 553 trillion gallons of ground water and that is predominately in southeast Alabama,” he said.

Water use in Alabama includes drinking water and household use, municipal waste water discharge and water treatment, industrial uses, commercial and recreational fishing and boating and habitat, power generation, transportation, ecotourism and some of the highest aquatic biodiversity in the nation.

The groups, companies, individuals and entities that use Alabama’s waters include municipality potable water systems, municipality wastewater systems, industries, businesses, farmers, recreational endeavors, commercial fishing, power generators and individual and household consumer.

“Plants and animals also use our water and many of these plants and animals are found only in Alabama,” Mitchell said.

Although Alabama’s water supply is meeting many needs, there are needs that not being met.

“Alabama needs an adequate in-stream flow policy and related water withdrawal controls to protect the water quality, aquatic/riparian habitat and aesthetic value of surface waters,” Mitchell said. “We also need equitable allocation of basic system resources between competing water users. For example, downstream navigation versus upstream municipal water supply.”

Mitchell said Alabama also needs adequate in-stream and off-stream storage to accommodate smart economic development and mitigate drought impact

“We need control over the impoundment of streams by private landowners,” he said. “Dissolved oxygen levels are not meeting the Clean Water Act standards on many waterways in Alabama, which directly affect potable water and wastewater systems, recreational users, plants and animals and commercial fishing.”

The uses and growing needs of Alabama water supplies underscores the importance of Alabama waterways.

Although Alabama is blessed with a good supply of water, Mitchell said, a statewide plan for managing its water resources will make sure that water issues are addressed to insure future growth and sustainability.