Water conversation spans the state

Published 9:03 pm Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Alabama is one of the wettest states in country.

That’s no reason to feel comfortable about our water resources, according to State Sen. Kim Benefield, D-Woodland.

Benefield joined fellow legislator Rep. Greg Canfield (Dist. 48) outside Dixie Pellets on Wednesday to outline a plan to conserve water and utilize it to promote living in Alabama.

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Alabama averages more than 50 inches of rainfall per year — more than 60 inches in some areas — but 30 percent of the state is considered in severe drought. Last year, 70 percent of the state fell into that category.

“The drought showed us water is not infinite,” said Benefield, chair of the Legislature’s Committee on Water Quality and Management. “Alabama relies on water for many different uses.”

Wednesday’s event was a prelude to Monday’s public meeting in Montgomery to address the conservation of water and its role in agriculture, industry, drinking and sanitation, recreation and tourism and environmental conservation.

The drought has grown into an especially large hardship for businesses that rely on state waterways.

Dixie Pellets operations manager Mike Holtzapfel stood just beyond the Alabama River and talked about the water levels that have altered the way the company transports goods.

“Right now we’re shipping barges at a 5-foot draft when we need to be at a 9-foot draft,” Holtzapfel. “We’ve got 50 percent less freight on those barges going downstream, so it doubles our cost for shipping. Our backup right now is we’ll truck everything.”

Dredging the river has not been as much help as many would have hoped for, said Jerry Sailors, who serves as co-chair of the Southeast Water Alliance.

“To (dredge) would take about six weeks, and once we finish, if we had normal flow we would have a full 9-foot draft,” Sailors said. “But with current flow, the best we’ve probably got is 6 ½, maybe 7. That means about 300 tons per barge difference.”

The meeting Monday is the first in a series to inform citizens and allow their input on a statewide water management strategy. It is scheduled for 10 a.m. at the Alabama Statehouse.