State of the State: Water plan coming?

Wednesday evening, Alabama Governor Bob Riley delivered his State of the State address in the Old House Chamber at the capitol.

While much of his speech was devoted to education issues and tax relief in a time of fiscal crisis, Riley announced some promising new environmental initiatives.

At the top of the list, Alabama “will conduct a statewide assessment of all of our water resources – above and below ground. This is the first step in creating a statewide water policy.” Details of the assessment plans are not available at this time, and in a time of budget cuts, it is not clear how this is going to be paid for. But, the Governor has finally heard the call and entering his sixth year in office, he is finally making initial steps toward a statewide water plan.

Water assessments can be difficult, and take time. ADEM in its 23 year history has only fully tested and assessed about seven percent of Alabama’s 77,000 miles of surface waters. Riley’s plan calls for a full assessment of surface waters and underground aquifers.

The Governor also commended Alabamians for their conservation efforts during the drought. He stated Alabama is willing to share its part of the pain during the drought, but won’t carry all the pain, referring to Georgia’s attempts to keep federal reservoir water in Georgia.

“Now there are some in Georgia who believe the water in those federal reservoirs belongs only to Georgians. However, Georgia didn’t build those reservoirs and Georgia didn’t pay for them. No. They were built with federal dollars, which means Alabama helped build them, Alabama helped pay for them, and Alabama has as much right to them as Georgia has ever had or ever will have. So let our message be heard loud and clear in Atlanta and in Washington: Alabama will never give up our right to the water in those reservoirs!”

Additionally, Riley touted Representative Cam Ward’s legislation to establish a transportation commission to oversee policies and decisions at the Department of Transportation. He also decried a rise in the gas tax and encouraged more public/private partnerships such as toll roads.

Unfortunately, the Governor remained silent on funding for mass transportation and alternative transportation initiatives beyond road building. Any water plan would be well-served with better plans for public infrastructure development, such as more transit-oriented development and less sprawl.

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