Ag commish warns of problems

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Selma Times-Journal

Alabama needs a comprehensive water management plan to address future needs.

Ron Sparks, commissioner of the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, delivered that message last week at the annual meeting of the Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association at the St. James Hotel.

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“Every since I’ve been ag commissioner, I’ve said we needed a comprehensive water management plan for Alabama,” said Sparks, who is currently serving his second term. “This drought has been crippling to this state. We’ve got to plan, and we’ve got to manage, and we’ve got to learn how to conserve (water).”

Sparks said per capita water usage in the state had surged 150 percent since 1995 and that water shortages were affecting farmers across the state, including cattle farmers.

“We took a bit hit in beef production because we didn’t have enough hay,” he said. “Not only does it hurt the farmer, but it has a ripple effect across the state.”

Sparks also said the number of farmers in the state is dwindling as is the acreage currently being used to produce food.

“Back in the ’50s and ’60s we used to farm 19 million acres in this state, now we only farm 9 million acres,” he said, adding that he believes agriculture and national security go hand-in-hand. “I don’t want another country putting food on my table like they put gas in my car.”

Ultimately Sparks believes it will be up to the governor and the legislature to drive the creation of a water management plan “we can live with.”

“Georgia has just finished up a comprehensive water management plan and we’re just beginning. We’re behind the curve.”