AGAINST THE WIND: Senator Williams’ proposed government regulations will keep pressure on Alabama’s water resources

 ImageIn Alabama, we use more of our water to keep the lights on than we use for anything else.  That is because our current sources of energy require large amounts of water to generate power.  Recently, developers have been looking to Alabama as a place to produce wind energy, a source that uses no water to create energy.  The Alabama Senate is currently considering a bill by Senator Williams of Gadsden (SB12) that  enacts unfair, burdensome regulations that will, in effect, prevent the development of wind energy anywhere in the state.

Alabama Power's Miller Steam Plant on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. (Jefferson Co.)

Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River. (Jefferson Co.)
Photo by Nelson Brooke. Flight provided by SouthWings.

 
The Alabama Rivers Alliance works to protect our state’s water resources, so we are urging the legislature to oppose Senator Williams’ bill in its current form. By intentionally implementing heavy handed government regulations for wind energy generators that don’t apply to any other energy producers, this proposed legislation would effectively foreclose the use of wind energy in Alabama and thereby “lock in” the threats to Alabama’s water resources from current methods of power production. Because of the ongoing issues facing the water resources of this state and the considerable impact that power production has on these resources, this is an issue that deserves the attention of our elected representatives.
 
While there are many debatable issues associated with energy production in Alabama, water use within the sector is too often overlooked. According to the latest United States Geological Survey report on water use in Alabama, about 83% of the water withdrawals in the state are for thermoelectric power generation. Almost all of the thermoelectric-power water use (about 8,274 Million Gallons per Day (Mgal/d)) was from Alabama’s rivers. [1]
 
By contrast, public water supply, the next highest sector with 802 Mgal/d, accounts for only 8% of our states water withdrawals. This overburden of our water resources from one sector presents three obvious challenges: it places our state’s energy security at risk by over relying on a naturally variable resource; it limits growth in other water dependent sectors, such as industry and agriculture, by tying up the water resources for power generation; and it threatens the state’s environment and water dependent industries, including those in the Mobile Bay region, by unnecessarily altering the natural flow of our state’s rivers.
 
Additionally, a significant portion of the water used for electric generation comes from the Coosa, Tallapoosa, Chattahoochee, and Tennessee Rivers which are entangled in water disputes with our neighboring states. According to a 2013 report by the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative entitled “Water-Smart Power: Strengthening the U.S. Electricity System in a Warming World,” continued reliance on water-using power plants could result in a 24% reduction in stream flows in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) Basin by 2050 and a 17% reduction in flows in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Basin.[2] This report highlights Alabama’s vulnerability to placing too much reliance on our current water-intensive power systems.
 
In contrast to coal, gas, nuclear, and hydropower generation, wind power will not impact our water resources. Wind energy offers an opportunity to diversify our energy production portfolio and free up or reduce the burden on our state’s water resources. According to the US Department of Energy, achieving a 20% share of energy production by 2030 would reduce cumulative water use in the electric sector by 8%.[3] In Alabama that could be a savings of over 600 million gallons of water per day.
 
Likewise, the Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative found that a significant transition to renewable energy along with improvements in efficiency could result in at least a 50% reduction in water withdrawals for energy production by 2030 with a potential 90% reduction by 2050.
 
The Alabama Rivers Alliance does not oppose the idea of fair regulation of energy production. However, as Alabama develops a comprehensive plan for our state’s water resources, our focus should be on managing the burden on our water resources. With this in mind, the state should evaluate all energy sources to determine the best way to keep the lights onand keep our rivers flowing. Due to the overwhelming potential positive impacts from wind energy to preserving our water resources, we encourage the Legislature to oppose Senator Williams’ regulation in its current form.
 
About the Alabama Rivers Alliance
The Alabama Rivers Alliance is Alabama’s statewide, nonprofit, water protection organization. Networking over fifty grassroots water protection organizations across Alabama at the local level and advocating smart planning and reasonable laws at the state level, we work to ensure healthy waters for future generations by empowering the citizens of Alabama to protect our waterways.
 
About Mitch Reid
Mitch Reid is the program director for the Alabama Rivers Alliance. Mitch is from Bellwood, Alabama, a small town in Southeast Alabama right on the Choctawhatchee River in Geneva, county.  A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the University of Alabama School of Law, he works with both the state and federal governments towards real and lasting protection of Alabama’s rivers.
 

 

[1] USGS, Water Use in Alabama, 2005, available at http://al.water.usgs.gov/infodata/wateruse.html. This figure does not account for the significant volume of water that must be held back for hydroelectric generation. RE: SB12 February 4, 2014
Alabama Rivers Alliance
 
[2] “Energy and Water in a Warming World Initiative,” Water-Smart Power; Strengthening the U.S Electricity System in a Warming World, p.23, July 2013
[3] US Department of Energy, Wind and Water Program, Wind Energy Benefits, April 2011. Available at
www.eere.energy.gov/informationcenter

 

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An accident away: Recent chemical spills raise safety questions for Alabama drinking water

Duke Energy Coal Ash Spill in North Carolina

If the recent chemical spill in West Virginia made you wonder about the safety of your drinking water supply, I don’t blame you.  Over half of Alabamians get their drinking water from rivers, streams, and reservoirs.  Alabama has not historically placed a priority on protecting drinking water, meaning contamination is just an accident away.

For example, there are nine coal-fired power plants located on seven of Alabama’s rivers: the Tennessee, Black Warrior, Locust Fork, Mulberry Fork, Coosa, Tombigbee, and Mobile Rivers.  Adjacent to each of these plants are massive coal ash storage ponds containing a total of 24.1 billion gallons of coal ash, the waste left behind when coal is burned. Coal ash contains many toxic metals like mercury, lead, and selenium. According to a recent report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Alabama’s coal ash ponds receive more toxic metals than any other coal ash dumps in the nation. The majority of coal ash dump sites in the state are old, unlined, and only separated from our drinking water sources by earthen dams.
Just this Monday, a storm water pipe broke in Eden, North Carolina, spilling a reported 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal ash along with 27 million gallons of water into the Dan River.  The ash was stored at one of Duke Energy’s retired coal plants in an unlined ash pond, similar to many of the coal ash ponds we have in Alabama.[i]

Coal ash is not regulated as hazardous waste, so utilities can dump it in wet, unlined ponds right next to our rivers.  After the 2008 Kingston coal ash disaster, the EPA ranked coal ash impoundments across the nation based on the amount of damage that could happen if they collapsed. In Alabama, they rated two dams as likely to cause loss of human life and five dams as likely to cause damage to the economy, the environment, and local infrastructure. Despite this threat, Alabama lacks laws to prevent a spill here, or to stop coal ash from polluting our waters.
Chances are you live downstream from one of these coal ash dumps. Birmingham, Huntsville, Guntersville, Florence, Mobile and many cities are downstream, as well as the drinking water intakes for several cities, like Huntsville and Gadsden, plus many of our most popular lakes like Lake Guntersville, Lake Neely Henry, and Lay Lake.  The Mobile-Tensaw Delta, recently featured in the documentary “America’s Amazon” for its globally significant ecological importance and biodiversity, is also downstream from a coal ash site. (Visit www.southeastcoalash.org to learn more about coal ash in your area.)

Meanwhile, state agencies have issued pollution permits for coal mining as close as 800 feet from one of Birmingham’s largest drinking water intakes.[ii]  Contamination from this site would impact 200,000 people in the Birmingham area.  There is an oil pipeline proposed to be built directly across the drinking water supply for the city of Mobile.  Citizens recently filed a lawsuit over this pipeline as their last resort for protecting their drinking water.[iii]

Local water utilities work hard every day to provide clean, safe drinking water,  but as West Virginia’s disaster made us keenly aware, we need to do a better job of keeping our water sources safe from hazardous threats.

Alabama is currently one of the worst states in the nation for funding environmental protection.  That includes the protection of our drinking water sources. Source after source reported the lack of oversight as the primary reason for the West Virginia disaster. Yet our state and federal governments are continually trying to cut funding for agencies charged with that oversight and short cut important processes that ensure oversight is thorough and accurate.

There’s a lot that needs to change in Alabama to protect our drinking water.  These changes might not be easy but they are vital if we want to ensure our water is clean and safe.  It may mean not allowing pollution permits in certain areas upstream from or adjacent to drinking water sources.  It may mean working together to move our state away from outdated facilities and outdated energy sources that we now know pose threats to drinking water quality and quantity.  It may mean conserving energy and water in our homes and making sure that we improve energy and water efficiency at all levels of our society.  These changes won’t happen overnight and they may require some growing pains, but if we work together and envision a better, cleaner future for our state, we can get there.  Other states are way ahead of us on this road, so we know the path.  We just have to have the courage, patience, and political will to go down it.

About Cindy Lowry
Cindy Lowry is the executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, Alabama’s statewide, nonprofit river protection organization. She received her BS degree in Wildlife Science from Auburn University in and her Masters of Public Administration from UAB. She has over a decade of experience in the environmental sector and countless volunteer hours.  She currently serves on the boards of directors for Friends of the Locust Fork River locally and Clean Water Network nationally.

For more information, visit www.alabamarivers.org.


[i] Henderson, Bruce. (2014, February 3). “Duke Energy plant reports coal ash spill.” Charlotte Observer.  Retrieved February 4, 2014 from http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/02/03/4661193/duke-energy-plant-reports-coal.html#.UvFP9tJdWbM
[ii] Evans, Sherrie. (2014, January 20). “Black Warrior Riverkeeper concerns over proposed strip mine.” ABC 33/40. Retrieved February 4, 2014 from http://www.abc3340.com/story/24499847/black-warrior-riverkeeper-concerns-over-proposed-strip-mine
[iii] Tynes, Gabriel. (2014, January 24). “Environmental groups sue Corps of Engineers over pipeline permit.” Lagniappe.  Retrieved February 4, 2014 from  http://lagniappemobile.com/selc-mobile-baykeeper-file-lawsuit-against-corps-of-engineers/
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Save the date: Alabama Water Rally is March 7-9, 2014 in Montgomery, AL

About Alabama Water Rally

Alabama Water Rally is a conference produced annually by the Alabama Rivers Alliance as a premier education event for those interested in water protection. It is the largest gathering of environmental advocates in Alabama. Participants include community leaders, elected officials, students, and concerned citizens from across the state. These individuals take their experience from the conference back to their communities.

Each year the conference brings together more than a hundred of Alabama’s most committed environmental and grassroots leaders, government representatives, college students and interested stakeholders for an event designed to inspire, train, and educate Alabama citizens about our most precious resource—water.

As always, the Alabama Rivers Alliance seeks to keep costs down to enable ALL Alabama citizens to participate, regardless of age, geographic location, or level of income.

Quick Links:

This year’s conference will feature:

  • Over a dozen educational workshops and training sessions by local and regional experts
  • Unsurpassed networking opportunities with conservation professionals
  • Annual River Celebration Awards Banquet and entertainment featuring local musicians

Want to learn more? Read our Frequently Asked Questions about Alabama Water Rally!

More information about this event…

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Alabama Rivers Alliance 2013 Annual Report

Happy New Year! Check out our annual report to read about 2013 accomplishments and important upcoming dates in 2014!

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Action Alert: Protect Impaired Streams

Hey Friends,

We at ARA hope you and your community had a wonderful summer! Did you get a chance to enjoy your local body of water during this summer? Have you noticed any differences in water quality?

Questions:
  • How’s the conditions of the streams in your watershed?
  • Do they meet their designated use?
  • Is any pollution impairing your stream?
The Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act requires that each state identify those waters that do not currently support designated uses, and to establish a priority ranking of these waters by taking into account the severity of the pollution and the designated uses of such waters.
Our state has issued a public notice for residents and citizens to comments for Alabama’s 303(d) list. Its vital to have the eyes and ears of the river (that’s you) submit information into the state.
Important information and links:
If you have more questions, please call or email us. 
We love our 77,000 miles of rivers and streams, the live they give, their invaluable assets, and those who protect and preserve them!

Adam Johnston

Alabama Rivers Alliance                 2014 6th Ave North, Suite 200
Alliance Coordinator                       Birmingham, Al 35203
www.alabamarivers.org                   205.322.6395


Action-AlertThe Alabama Department of Environmental Management posted a public notice on September 1, regarding the listing of impaired streams on the State’s 303(d) list. (This is the list of impaired and threatened waters that the Clean Water Act requires all states to submit for EPA approval every two years on even-numbered years.) 

 
 
The notice warrants two types of action from two different audiences: 
 
For Scientists, Techies, and Wonks: the Department is accepting comments on the 303(d) listing methodology they will use to assess the waters of the state. This is your chance to comment on the science that ADEM is using to determine whether our waters are impaired. If there are better policies or ways of doing things, this is your opportunity to get that information in front of the Department 
 
For the rest of us: the Department is soliciting data and information for consideration during preparation of the actual 303(d) list. This means that, if you know of streams in your watershed that are impaired and not meeting their designated uses this is your opportunity to submit data to ADEM to have the streams listed on the 303(d) list. 
 
How to take action
Data, information, and comments should be submitted to Joseph Roy, Water Division, Alabama Department of Environmental Management, P.O. Box 301463, Montgomery, Alabama 36130-1463 (street address: 1400 Coliseum Boulevard, Montgomery, Alabama 36110-2059). Mr. Roy’s phone number is 334-270-5635. His email address is jtr@adem.state.al.us.
 
The clock is running! 
 
Data, information, and comments must be received by the Department prior to 5:00 p.m. on September 30, 2013.
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Auburn University teams with stakeholder groups to share information about Alabama’s water management plan

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
Contact:
Cindy Lowry or Mitch Reid
205-322-6395
clowry@alabamarivers.org or mreid@alabamarivers.org
 
 
Shouldn't AL have a water plan?AUBURN, Ala. Last Friday, over 100 participants from across Alabama crowded into a packed auditorium at Auburn University’s Comer Hall to attend a symposium on the formation of a comprehensive water management plan for Alabama. Mitch Reid, program director for the Alabama Rivers Alliance, began the day by discussing the environmental needs for water management policy. 
 
“We have a lot of water in Alabama, but this environment was designed for that amount of water and we have built industries based on that amount of water,” stated Reid.  “Our challenge is to keep this water flowing for future generations.” 
 
Alabama is the only state among its neighbors that does not have such a plan, and in April of 2012, Governor Robert Bentley directed the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group (AWAWG), made up of the five state agencies with responsibility over the State’s water resources, to recommend a plan for the state.
 
The Alabama Rivers Alliance, which has long advocated the development of such a plan, is working with partners across the state to host symposia to gather stakeholder input. There have already been symposia in Birmingham and Mobile, and the next symposium will be in Huntsville on June 28, 2013.
 
Each symposium concentrates on a specific water management theme. The Auburn Symposium, co-sponsored by Auburn University Water Resources Center, Alabama Water Watch, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, focused on the importance of science-based information to be used in the formation of Alabama’s water management plan. Auburn University faculty presented about how recent Auburn University water-based research projects can guide the development of Alabama’s plan. The research is compiled in a new publication titled Auburn Speaks On Water.
Symposia participants listen intently.
Representatives of all five state agencies making up the AWAWG were present. AWAWG chair, Bennett Bearden, Assistant Attorney General for the Geologic Survey of Alabama, explained the myriad problems facing our state and how the current legal system does not work to protect water users.  He also announced that the Geologic Survey of Alabama and the Office of Water Resources were given funding in the 2013 budget to do water assessments.  According to Bearden, the is the first time in the State’s history that state agencies have been given funding specifically to gather data for the development of a water management plan.  Questions including, “what will be given to the Governor in December?” and “how will a water plan be implemented and enforced?” led to robust conversation throughout the day. 
 
Symposium participants also heard from Jim Giattina, the director of the EPA’s Region 4 Water Management Division about the importance of water flow to the state’s water quality.  “Any state water management plan must comply with the Clean Water Act,” Giattina declared. However, he made it clear that his office considered water management to be a State responsibility.  He also made it clear that more reservoirs are not the answer to water management.  According to Giattina, stream alterations such as dams are one of the leading causes of water quality problems for rivers and streams in the Southeast.
 
A diverse group of stakeholders ranging from representatives of Alabama Power Company and ALFA to Auburn County Commissioners to concerned citizens were present to ask questions and learn about the state’s progress toward developing a water management plan.
 
Participants were repeatedly encouraged to provide their comments and feedback to the AWAWG by emailing them towater@adeca.alabama.gov.  They will be taking stakeholder input ongoing throughout the entire process until their deadline of December 1, 2013. 
 
“We were very pleased with the turnout and the level of engagement of Auburn University in hosting this meeting,” stated Cindy Lowry, executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance.
 
“The Governor has clearly asked the state agencies for recommendations for a comprehensive water management plan as well as recommendations for legislation to implement the plan,” Lowry explained. “It is understandable that they are feeling the weight on their shoulders, but the people, the economy, and the environment of Alabama are depending on this process to ensure secure water supplies for future generations.”
 
# # #
 
About the Alabama Rivers Alliance
The Alabama Rivers Alliance is a network of river and water-centered organizations from around Alabama, 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.

 

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Rivers of Alabama Day 2013

Rivers of Alabama Day 2013

Thanks to everyone who participated in the 2013 Rivers of Alabama Day paddle trip and lobby day in Montgomery, AL!

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