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February 19, 2008   Email to Friend 

Jeff Helms
(334) 613-4212
February 19, 2008

Congressman Everett, second from right, addresses the news media following the meeting at the Federation home office. Joining him are, from left, Sen. Jeff Sessions, NRCS Chief Arlen Lancaster, Everett and Federation President Jerry A. Newby.
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, and Congressman Terry Everett, R-Rehobeth, met with agricultural leaders at the Alabama Farmers Federation headquarters Monday to discuss how the state could better utilize its abundant water resources.

"I believe that if the plan that has been put together by some of Alabama's best scientists is followed, the changes it makes in the state's agriculture could be of a historic nature," Sessions told reporters after the meeting.

Earlier in the day, Sessions, Everett and Arlen Lancaster, chief of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, heard presentations by Dr. Richard McNider of the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Marlon Cook of the Geological Survey of Alabama.

McNider is one of the chief architects of the Alabama Irrigation Initiative, a comprehensive plan to increase agricultural irrigation by utilizing off-stream storage and on-farm reservoirs. Cook gave an overview of the state's abundant water resources, which include 33.5 trillion gallons of surface water and 553 trillion gallons of groundwater.

The meeting brought together lawmakers and scientists along with leaders of Alabama's agricultural community. The group's goal is to promote better utilization of the state's water resources and ensure agriculture's voice is heard as state government discusses water management policies.

Federation President Jerry A. Newby called Sessions and Everett "champions for agriculture and irrigation in Alabama," noting that the lawmakers have sponsored legislation to provide $300 million in cost-share assistance over five years to help farmers increase irrigation.

The legislation has been included in both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill. A conference committee is currently negotiating differences in the two farm bills while addressing budget constraints that threaten to cut funding for certain farm programs.

Everett said he's hopeful other members of Congress and the administration will embrace the irrigation initiative as a good investment for taxpayers. Not only could it reduce money spent on disaster programs, but Everett said it's much more efficient to irrigate crops in the Southeast than in the West.

"There are a lot of places out West that get 3 inches of water a year, and yet they are able to do a lot of agriculture. We get anywhere from 50-56 inches of water a year, but it comes at the wrong time. It comes during the winter and early spring. In addition, our soils don't hold water very well," Everett said. "So what we end up with is, during the summer, we have a deficit of water for our crops. The farm reservoir bill that we have in both the House and Senate will help producers store water that we get in times of plenty to use for irrigation.

"I really believe that, as the water shortage continues and gets worse in the West, we are going to see a lot of the agriculture move to the Southeast again," Everett added. "We need a laser focus on the use of water in Alabama because we've got to remember agriculture is the number-one industry in this state."

If signed into law, the farm reservoir cost-share program would be administered by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. Lancaster, who heads the agency, said meeting with Alabama scientists and agricultural leaders provided insight into the state's water issues.

"Our primary mission is helping people help the land," Lancaster said. "We are trying to find ways to mitigate drought. We must make sure, as we are looking forward, that we are implementing those conservation practices and those techniques so that the next drought won't hit as hard, and so that we will continue to have a robust agricultural economy."

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