Cahaba River Society comments on the Alabama Water Conservation and Security Act (HB577)


PUBLIC HEARING COMMENTS

Alabama Water Conservation and Security Act (HB577)

Beth Stewart, Executive Director

May 17, 2017

Alabama needs this bill to protect water in our rivers, keep drinking water supplies affordable, make sure communities can cash in on river recreation and tourism, and protect river wildlife.

Dr. Haddock, our staff scientist, and I served on the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group focus panels that studied water efficiency and river flows needed for aquatic wildlife. This bill would help implement what we learned.

Cahaba River Society Executive Director Beth Stewart delivers testimony at the hearing on The Water Conservation & Security Act – HB577.

The bill encourages drinking water efficiency and protects water supplies needed for drinking water, which is good for the economy. The Birmingham Water Board takes half of the region’s water right out of the Cahaba River. Take a look at page 3 of our 2016 report – the middle and right photos are the same place on the River upstream from the drinking water intakes in a normal year and during last year’s drought. Water was very low. The River was even bone dry in Trussville.

If the Water Board has to develop a new water source, that will add the debt burden of more than $300 million onto water bills for businesses and residents. The Water Board is having to scrounge for low quality water – they’ve asked a sewer plant to redirect 6 mgd of treated sewage into Lake Purdy to boost supply. Instead, let’s protect healthy water in our rivers and be more efficient with drinking water, which saves businesses money.

Alabama could bring in far more recreation and tourism revenues, but we need water in our rivers to support the outdoor industry. The Cahaba Blueway partners are planning to launch an improved public access system next year for boating, fishing and other river fun, backed by a website to market the system and help people find places to eat, shop and stay nearby. Communities in Dallas County, Perry, Bibb, Shelby and Jefferson can financially benefit – if we have water in the river!

We also need this bill to improve management of the health of our rivers for all life. The aquatic biodiversity of Alabama’s rivers is globally-significant and something for us to be proud of. We think of maintaining minimum flows for river life, but also, the seasonal patterns of flow (like timing and size of floods and low water events) are just as important.

We’ve studied 30-50 years of data on the Cahaba and can see significant changes in patterns of stream flows as our communities and water use have grown. The river life that has relied on river flows since ancient times has declined. Heavy water withdrawals during times of drought stress compound that. Loss of life in our rivers impoverishes our lives and makes us wonder when we’ll know if our streams are healthy enough to support US.

CRS offers to be a resource for representatives from districts serving our watershed to discuss this bill and find the right balance for our rivers and waters. Thank you.

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