Natural Resources & Energy Policy - Water Resources

LWVAL Action Priority Level II - Monitoring occurs; action dependent on opportunity and available resources.

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SB255 - Water, use from Ala., Tennessee, and Tombigbee Rivers by non-riparian landowners under certain conditions for agricultural purposes, duties and reporting by Water Resources Commission, Sec. 9-10B-22.1 added

Sponsor(s): Senator Orr

Synopsis: This bill would apply to the Alabama River, the Tennessee River, and the Tombigbee River, and would authorize a landowner whose land is not contiguous to a natural body of water to use water for agricultural irrigation under certain circumstances.

Currently only landowners contiguous to a body of water have riparian rights, a holdover from English common law. It would be limited to places where average flows are more than 8,000 cubic feet per second and could not exceed five percent of the average basin flow at the end of the basin. Non-riparian users would have to meter their use and report it annually to the Office of Water Resources. The Office of State Climatology and the Office of Water Resources shall develop objective criteria on when non-riparian use may be restricted during drought to protect stream flow attributes. The Water Resources Commission shall adopt rules to implement this section of the law.

League Action and Justification: Monitor. LWVAL could support the bill if suggested improvements from Alabama Rivers Alliance (ARA) are adopted. Our Coastal Zone Management Position calls for adequate quality and quantity of water flow. This bill, when strengthened, would support that.

ARA finds that there is currently not a clear enough directive to the state agencies to protect river flows to the delta and bay. LWVAL agrees with ARA -- The bill must protect instream integrity, deal with times of water shortage and address hydrologic drought, a condition in which the daily streamflow discharge of a water body is below the 10th percentile for daily flows.

Amendments would change the restriction from an average of 5 percent withdrawn to no more than five percent of the calculated daily natural flow for that river, which would address the withdrawals that may be more likely in low water conditions.

LWVAL believes that this bill is a positive, though piecemeal, step. It would be preferable to have a comprehensive water management plan, which has been in the works for 5 years and is on Gov. Bentley’s desk.

Bill Progress in Legislature:

Read for the first time and referred to the Senate committee on Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (AC&F)

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