A Few Words From the Chair
As we enter the final month of the calendar year, we tend to reflect upon our actions during the preceding eleven months, and so will I. First, a heartfelt thanks to all who support us through your membership, your leadership roles within the Club, your joining a hike or other outing, your presence at monthly meetings, your letters to our legislators supporting a clean environment, and every other way in which you participate and have your voice heard on behalf of a healthy environment for our wildlife, ourselves, and future generations.
|View of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge|
In January, the Alabama Chapter's campaign for the development of a comprehensive water management plan for the state began. Our primary role this year has been engaging stakeholders (that includes every one of us) in the process which was set in place by Governor Bentley in 2012.
Why do we need to change? Alabama is the only state without a water management plan which places us at a disadvantage when there is a disagreement with a neighboring state with a plan. In an interstate "water war" situation, the courts will invariably side with the state which has a plan for its needs and distribution of water. Furthermore, Alabama still uses the "common law riparian rights" system which is a carry-over from colonial times. Although not fully enforced, the riparian rights system allows those who have land physically touching a water resource (stream, lake, well) to use the water. Owners of non-riparian land have no lawful right to use water. NONE! In fact, water is not supposed to be distributed from riparian owners to non-riparian users. So, even though your city may provide your residence with water, the water works department has no lawful right to do so. Yet another concern that needs to be addressed in a plan is the increasing use of water for agricultural irrigation and how water withdrawals will impact water supply downstream. And what about times of drought? Who should have priority? A well done plan will accommodate all users of water in an equitable fashion whether in times of drought or in times of plenty.
What are we doing about the issue of water planning? In collaboration with the Alabama Rivers Alliance, local Sierra Club groups and the Chapter as a whole have hosted water symposia. Each symposium is designed to inform the public of the process and how availability of water is critical to individuals, agriculture, industry, tourism, wildlife, transportation, and all aspects of life. The Mobile Bay group hosted a symposium about water resources in the Bay area in January; the Chapter co-sponsored one on agriculture's water usage in Huntsville in June; the Coosa Valley group hosted one in Gadsden in November that dealt with interstate water issues. We also participated in symposia in Dothan and Auburn.
Members are also doing local presentations on the water management plan. If your group or organization wants a personal approach to why we need a plan and what a plan might look like, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking forward – the Alabama Water Agencies Working Group (AWAWG) assigned to present a plan to Governor Bentley has assured us they will be on time and deliver a product to Governor Bentley on December 1, 2013. However, this document will not be an end product, only a starting place. More work will need to be done and we will be there. The West Alabama group and the Montgomery group will be sponsoring additional symposia in 2014. Please try to attend one of these meetings and keep yourself and your friends informed on this vital legislation.
Can you tell that the water agenda has been a primary focus of mine in 2013? There are a few other things going on, too.
Please keep sending in your ballots with your votes for members of our executive board. The ballot is a green paper that should have arrived in your mailbox about the first week of November, and even if you have to dig through the stack of papers on the desk, try to find it and vote. The executive committee makes decisions on your behalf on issues that we support and proposals we oppose.
In January 2014, the executive committee will be reviewing requests for support in 2014. If your group has special needs for the coming year, you may submit a request by sending a written (or e-mail) proposal including the group or person requesting (and contacts), purpose of the request, amount, how you will measure outcomes of the proposal, and any other appropriate details to support your request. Send proposals to Charlie Cohen at email@example.com or Margo Rebar at firstname.lastname@example.org or 4625 Dolly Ridge Road, Birmingham, AL 35243.
Wishing you a wonderful holiday season. I trust you will have at least one opportunity to get outdoors to enjoy and marvel the wonders of our natural world. Alabama truly is a beautiful state, and we Sierrans are working to keep it beautiful and accessible to all.
Chair, Alabama Chapter of the Sierra Club
Inner City Outings (ICO) and the Sierra Club Motto
The shortened Sierra Club motto begins simply -- "explore, enjoy…". With each Inner City Outings trip, we do just that. In November, the destination of Moss Rock Preserve in Hoover provided pleasurable discovery with every turn along its many trails. The Boulder Field challenged the ICO participants to climb steep rock slopes, to look down from a sheer drop edge, to fit through narrow passages, to figure out what the mud constructions on the overhangs were (mud wasp nests), and to marvel at trees growing on rock. Then there was the creek with crayfish and salamanders and wet shoes. The sewer pipe suspended above the creek impelled each youth to attempt to walk across, sometimes changing to a creep in order to reach the far side. How many types of oak leaves could be found? What did persimmons taste like? Are privet fruits edible? What caused the tree to have such a strange growth? Hours later, we returned to the parking lot, leaving behind many more places to explore and all sorts of ideas to pursue. As we drove home, I considered the third part of the Sierra Club motto – "and protect the planet" – and hoped that this day at Moss Rock will remain with the youth and that they will continue to follow all three parts of the motto.
Cahaba Group Invites You to a Special Event:
Thurs. January 16, 2014
SAVE THE DATE OF JANUARY 16, 2014
FOR A THURSDAY NIGHT SPECIAL EVENT
The Cahaba Group is inviting all Sierra Club members and their friends to an evening of good music and even better conversation from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Good People Brewing Company,
114 14th Street S, Birmingham 35233
We would love to fill this space with good people who care about our environment
More details to follow in the January 2014 edition
Groups Challenge Flawed Coal Mine Permitting
along Black Warrior River
Birmingham, AL – The continued use of a controversial permit in the Black Warrior River watershed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fails to comply with federal requirements for surface mining, according to a lawsuit filed today by the Southern Environmental Law Center and Public Justice on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Defenders of Wildlife.
The lawsuit challenges the Corps’ use of a general permit known as Nationwide Permit 21 in Alabama, which has already authorized the fill and burial of hundreds of miles of streams and wetlands to accommodate surface mining, without the detailed study and analysis of cumulative impacts required by the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. In two prior lawsuits brought by Public Justice against the Corps in Kentucky and West Virginia, two federal courts have already declared NWP 21 to be in violation of these laws.
The Corps suspended the use of this permit elsewhere in the Appalachian region in 2010 because of mounting concern over its adverse effects on aquatic resources. Although the Corps substantially revised the permit when reissuing it in 2012, the Corps also included an arbitrary “grandfather” provision that allows the unlimited fill of streams and wetlands authorized by the previous version of the permit to continue in Alabama until 2017. Originally estimating that the “grandfather” would be used rarely, the Corps has approved around 80 total projects across the country under its auspices -- including 41 projects in the Black Warrior watershed alone.
“These 41 grandfathered permits should never have been granted, because they rely on the Corps’ unsupportable and undocumented assumption that burying and disturbing tens of miles of streams has only minimal cumulative effects,” said Jim Hecker, Environmental Enforcement Director at Public Justice.
Since May of 2012, the use of this deeply flawed permit has authorized the fill of over 145,000 linear feet of streams (or approximately 27 miles) in the Black Warrior basin. The Black Warrior River watershed is a major source of drinking water for Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, and other Alabama communities.
“The Corps of Engineers is depriving Alabama of protections it affords other states, allowing miles of precious streams along the Black Warrior River to be destroyed by coal mines,” said Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper. “The Corps should be barred immediately from using Nationwide Permit 21 in Alabama, home to the United States’ largest number of aquatic species and the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains.”
This lawsuit asks the Corps to revise the permitting process to adequately consider the site-specific and cumulative environmental impacts of new stream-filling by coal mining. Activities that have more than minimal effects, either individually or cumulatively, such as significant stream-filling by coal mining, require individual permits under the Clean Water Act that can only be issued after careful review and public comment, a process the Corps has avoided under Nationwide Permit 21.
“It’s the responsibility of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ensure that surface mining in Alabama strictly follows the permitting process required by law,” said Catherine Wannamaker, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “It is possible to balance protections for clean water and natural resources with economic opportunities, but this process has failed to do so.”
The Black Warrior River watershed is the largest coal producing region in Alabama, with more than 90 active coal mines. Much of the area has been degraded by surface coal mining, which has allowed significant loss of headwater tributary stream function, damage to wetlands with essential water filtration capabilities, and elevated pollutants in mine runoff such as sediment and heavy metals.
“Alabama’s freshwater streams host one of the greatest bounties of biodiversity in the world, yet the Corps has turned a blind eye to the impacts of multiple coal mining projects polluting and destroying stream habitats,” said Jane Davenport, senior staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The rare species pushed to the brink of extinction by coal mining are the canaries warning us that our irreplaceable rivers and streams must be protected from further damage if we are to protect human health as well.”
(from Black Warrior Riverkeeper: Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s mission is to protect and restore the Black Warrior River and its tributaries. We are a citizen-based nonprofit organization advocating for clean water, wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities throughout the Black Warrior River watershed. To learn more about the river and threats to it, visit www.BlackWarriorRiver.org
Take Action: Our Most Special Wild Places Should Be Monuments
What do the awe-inspiring wonder of the Grand Canyon, the ancient beauty of California's giant sequoia forests, and the smoldering Mount St. Helens all have in common? These national treasures were all permanently protected as national monuments by a sitting president, which is why we can enjoy them without fear that they will be ruined by mining, drilling, or clearcutting. Tell President Obama -- now is the time for him to establish his presidential legacy by naming some of our most special wild places as national monuments. (from Sierra Currents)
The Top 10 Clean Energy Stories to Be Thankful for in 2013
There’s plenty to be thankful for in 2013. From the largest climate rally in U.S. history to major milestones like the 150th coal plant to announce retirement, 2013 has been a great year. This Thanksgiving, let's take some time to be thankful for all the success stories across the country as our nation moves beyond dirty fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. (See the full list here) (from Sierra Insider)