Water harvesting might be part of the solution to Alabama’s future water needs

AUBURN – Water resource specialists from Auburn University and from other agencies in the state will gather at Lake Guntersville State Park Jan. 21-22 to discuss ways to capture and store excess rainwater, which could help meet the future water needs of Alabama.

The conference, “Upland Rainwater Banking: An Alternative to Damming Larger Perennial Streams for Municipal, Industrial and Agricultural Water Sources,” will explore the potential for capturing overland flow of rainfall from upland, rural watersheds in small impoundments to provide water for municipal, industrial and agricultural use. Speakers will discuss the hydrological, environmental, legislative, regulatory and socioeconomic issues related to water harvesting.

“This technique has been used very successfully at some places in the United States and several other countries to increase water supply,” said Sam Fowler, director of the Auburn University Water Resources Center.

Because of the relatively high rainfall and resulting overland flow across Alabama, water harvesting could be a particularly attractive source of water for municipalities in areas without access to significant sources of groundwater, according to Fowler.

“Contrary to what many people think, rainfall is relatively evenly distributed throughout the year under normal conditions,” Fowler said. “But the demand for water by humans and by nature is not evenly distributed throughout the year.”

Studies also show that cyclical drought periods have always occurred and will continue to occur. However, climate models cannot give future guidance about the precise timing and duration of droughts with great confidence.

Therefore, according to Fowler, it is logical to store water during times of abundant rainfall or in times when the natural demand for water is low. An added benefit is that water could be harvested from privately owned land, thus providing a potential source of income for property owners who implement productive watershed practices on their property.  However, there are still many legal, economic and environmental questions that need to be resolved before this practice can be recommended and widely implemented. The purpose of this conference is to explore many of these issues.

There also will be a water policy session that will focus on topics such as water rights in Alabama, water-related issues in the new farm bill, the Alabama legislature’s efforts to develop a new state water plan, water management authorities and the challenges of permitting reservoirs.

The conference is co-sponsored by the Auburn University Butler/Cunningham Endowment, the Auburn University Water Resources Center, the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and the Alabama Farmers Federation.

All those interested in how to better manage the water resources of Alabama are welcome to attend. For more information, including an agenda of all presenters and topics, accommodations and a link to the on-line registration form, visit http://www.nrmdi.auburn.edu/water/conference/2009/.

Contact: Samuel Fowler, (334) 844-5542 (fowlesr@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)