Alabama grapples with water use, planning affecting Florida

Thu, Jul 24, 2014




MONTGOMERY, Ala. — A flotilla of about 70 red, green, orange a blue kayaks and canoes drifted down the Alabama River, providing a colorful contrast against the gray capital city and overcast skies.

Kayaks pass a paddleboat docked along the Alabama River in Montgomery.

Kayaks pass a paddleboat docked along the Alabama River in Montgomery.

Alabama depends on water flowing from Georgia to feed some of its rivers just as Florida does with its Apalachicola River, which flows through Alabama and Georgia on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

But unlike Florida, Alabama is just getting started with creating a government framework to manage its water and identify its needs for water from upstream Georgia, said Mitch Reid, program director for the Alabama Rivers Alliance.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley in April released a report with recommendations by state agencies that included development and implementation of a statewide water plan.

The plan actually shows how far Alabama is behind Florida in water planning, Reid said. His group launched a campaign called “Defend Alabama Rivers” which includes support for the state planning initiative and the kayaking event on July 18 in Montgomery on the Alabama River.

“Currently Alabama doesn’t have a water management plan,” Reid said. He said Alabama’s water use regulation still relies on riparian water law giving priority to landowners with water access rather than a system of management and regulations.

“Most people are aware that we have conflicts with Georgia. Georgia developed a water management plan in 2008. The state of Florida, which has really driven the train in the water wars in protecting Apalachicola Bay, they developed a water management plan back in the 1970s. So Alabama is really late to the game on this.”


Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been battling in the federal courts since 1990 over water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

Alabama and Georgia want water for industry and cities while Florida wants water to maintain the seafood industry in Apalachicola Bay.

But a water management plan in Alabama may affect more than just the Apalachicola River. The Choctahatchee, Escambia, Yellow and Blackwater rivers in western Florida also begin in Alabama on their way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Mitch Reid of the Alabama Rivers Alliance.

Mitch Reid of the Alabama Rivers Alliance.

On Oct. 1, 2013, Florida sued Georgia in the U. S. Supreme Court to request a water-sharing plan for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system.

Alabama has remained on the sidelines in that legal dispute.

“The problem for the state of Alabama is we don’t have a water management program,” Reid said as kayakers on the Alabama River passed a replica paddleboat that was docked in Montgomery. “For us to participate in this current debate about water use, we are at a significant disadvantage.


Water flows from Georgia through the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, which join east of Montgomery to form the Alabama River. Last October, an attorney representing Alabama blasted Georgia for taking more than its fair share of water from the river system, according to The Anniston Star.

Reid says Alabama has “ridden the coattails of Florida” in the other water dispute with Georgia.

“We (in Alabama) essentially have to get our own house in order, develop a water management plan, understand what our uses and our what internal resources are before we can go back and argue that the state of Georgia is using too much water,” he said.

Sam Fowler, director of the Auburn University Water Resources Center, said he doesn’t disagree with Reid’s comments.

“I think Alabama is trying to catch up from not having developed a comprehensive, well-defined water management plan in the past,” he said.

“Some of the states do have water management plans that are probably better documents,” Fowler said. “Whether they are better enforced I don’t know. Having a plan is one thing. Enforcing a plan is something else.”

An Alabama state official responded after deadline for this story that Alabama’s water use in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin does not affect Florida. (To view the complete response, click here.)


Reid said good water planning in Alabama can’t help but benefit Florida as well as various downstream user groups and the environment in Alabama.

“If we do a better job in Alabama of managing our water resources, protecting the resource and making sure the river is healthy, then that will benefit Florida.”

(Photos and story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Please do not copy, forward or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com).

Alabama responds to River Alliance comments

Mon, Jul 28, 2014


Larry Childers, chief of the Communications and Information Division, Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, responded after deadline to comments by Mitch Reid of the Alabama Rivers Alliance:

What is Alabama’s role in the lawsuit filed in the Supreme Court Oct. 1, 2013 by Florida against Georgia to request a water-sharing plan?

“Alabama was not named as a defendant and Alabama chose not to join the case as a plaintiff; consequently, Alabama has no role in this litigation.”

Mitch Reid said that Alabama does not have a water management program. Is this true?

No. The Alabama Legislature adopted the Alabama Water Resources Act in 1990 and that Act continues to govern Alabama’s Water Management Program. (Alabama) Gov. (Robert) Bentley formed a working group in 2012 to consider updates to Alabama’s water management program and that work is ongoing.

Reid says Alabama must develop a water management plan before it can effectively argue that Georgia is using too much water. Comment?

The excess use of water by Atlanta is a separate issue. Atlanta continues to use water at federal reservoirs in Georgia in violation of federal law. The data shows that less water is flowing into Alabama as a result of that illegal usage.

Reid says good water planning in Alabama would benefit Florida and downstream users. Comment?

Alabama’s use of water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin has no adverse effect on Florida. In Florida’s original action filed against Georgia in the U.S. Supreme Court, Florida stated that it “asserts no wrongful act by Alabama.”

District staff urges denial of controversial ranch water request

Tue, Jul 15, 2014


State officials are recommending denial of a requested water use permit for a cattle ranch in Marion County whose application in 2011 prompted a political campaign on behalf of Florida’s springs.

Sleepy Creek Ranch The St. Johns River Water Management District staff says the application by Sleepy Creek Lands for 1.12 million in new pumping, combined with exiting permitted water uses in the region, represents a threat to Silver Springs in Ocala.

But another permit involving Sleepy Creek Lands, formerly Adena Springs Ranch, for 1.46 million gallons of existing permitted water use was recommended for approval in May but faces a legal challenge.

In 2011, billionaire Frank Stronach’s 30,000-acre Adena Springs Ranch in Marion County applied to the St. Johns River Water Management District for a permit to use up to 13.2 million gallons of water daily. The proposal to produce grass-fed beef follows a nationwide diet trend for some health-conscious and green-friendly consumers.

The water request touched off a firestorm of protests including a 2012 rally in Ocala led by former U. S. Sen. Bob Graham, D-Miami Lakes. Environmental groups presented petitions they said were signed by 15,000 calling for protection of Silver and Rainbow springs in Marion County.

Springs legislation passed the Florida Senate in April but wasn’t heard by the House before the 2014 legislative session ended.

Stronach’s request later was reduced from 13.2 million gallons to nearly 2.6 million gallons per day, according to the district.

The St. Johns River Water Management District said the requested additional pumping of 1.12 million gallons per day, combined with permits already issued, could lead to less flooding of Silver Springs and the Silver River 12 miles away. Less water would cause the floodplain to dry out while reducing fish habitat and the uptake of nutrients, such as nitrogen.

The district staff recommendation to deny could go before the governing board at its Aug. 12 meeting in Palatka.

Sleepy Creek Lands issued a statement saying that the staff report actually backs the company and that a permit would have been issued except for “newly adopted methodology” for analyzing the request.

“This staff finding doesn’t just impact Sleepy Creek Lands but impacts every water user in the area including all of the residents of the city of Ocala who are now faced with how the District proposes to deal with such an over-permitted situation,” the company statement concluded.

The St. Johns River Water Management District staff in May recommended approval of the nearly 1.5 million gallons of water use currently permitted along with modifications, including moving some pumping the north.

That request is being challenged by Sierra Club Florida, the St. Johns Riverkeeper and individuals Karen Ahlers and Jeri Baldwin, with a hearing scheduled for late August. They said a hearing is needed to determine whether springs and waterways are being protected from over-pumping and pollution.

John R. Thomas, an attorney representing Ahlers and Baldwin, said the company and agency are working together to defend the challenge so the recommended denial now “smells fishy.”

“By outward appearance, it looks like St. Johns is doing the right thing denying the second modification,” Thomas said. “We agree and laud the denial. However, the situation is very unusual.”

(Map is from the St. Johns River Water Management District web site. Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Do not republish, copy or forward without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com .)