ADEM Urged to Prioritize State Water Plan over Premature Water Regulations
Birmingham, AL—Conservation groups are asking that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) finalize a statewide water management plan before implementing two recently introduced water regulations, including a potentially risky water storage process that would be permitted for the first time in Alabama’s history.
The Southern Environmental Law Center and Alabama Rivers Alliance submitted written comments and voiced concerns to ADEM officials last week about the proposed rules, which cover the reuse of water and the injection and recovery of water from aquifers.
The process to develop a comprehensive state water management plan, led by five state agencies including ADEM, has been in the works since 2012. The groups asked that the agency wait until the details of the plan are determined to ensure that any new policies include sufficient protections for Alabama’s waters and all water users, and are otherwise consistent with the plan.
“Beyond securing our waters from the ongoing threats from neighboring states and competing uses within Alabama’s borders, a water management plan will bring structure and clarity to decisions that impact water rights for communities, businesses and industries statewide,” said Mitch Reid from the Alabama Rivers Alliance. “ADEM should not implement new policies that create the illusion of a right to water before a plan has been vetted by a thorough process with input and recommendations from stakeholders.”
For the first time in state history, ADEM’s proposed rule would permit aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), a process that would allow individuals to withdraw surface or ground water, treat that water, and then store it underground for later consumptive use.
ADEM has included a provision that securing a permit for ASR could prevent nearby landowners from using wells on their private property for drinking water given the potential dangers to water quality through contamination. Found to be a problematic practice in other states, ASR can potentially pollute the underground water supply with hard metals and chemicals.
“While we appreciate that ADEM is requiring high treatment levels for the injected water, this still does not alleviate concerns about potential harmful byproducts from the treated water,” said Sarah Stokes from the Southern Environmental Law Center. “If ASR projects create the risk of unsafe water, ADEM should not allow this hazardous practice to take place in Alabama, period.”
“What’s more, landowners seeking a permit for these projects may have a false impression that they own or have an absolute right to the stored water,” continued Stokes. “The importance of preserving water as a public resource for current and future generations of Alabamians highlights the critical need for sustainable water management policies.”
ADEM’s second proposal includes a reclaimed water program allowing for treated wastewater to be reused for irrigation. While water reuse can be an efficient and cost-effective way to manage finite water resources if done properly, the proposal does not adequately account for the fact that reducing the flow level in rivers and streams can result in permanently altering the water’s chemical and biological makeup, impose additional stress on water systems, and negatively impact water quality.
“Any water reuse policy must be very carefully crafted for the most efficient use of our water resources, and ADEM’s proposed program is both insufficient and premature,” said Reid. “To prevent harmful policy decisions from impacting the health of our rivers and streams, we need deliberate coordination between water users and state agencies.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
The Alabama Rivers Alliance is the statewide organization working to defend and restore Alabama’s rivers by advocating for smart water policy, organizing at the grassroots level, and teaching citizens how they can protect their water with in order to achieve healthy rivers, healthy people, and a healthy system of government for the state of Alabama. Please visit www.alabamarivers.org for more information.