For Immediate Release: May 1, 2018
Contact: Bill Shugart Little River Waterkeeper (256)-516-2877
Alabama – Alabama’s new summer recreation season starts today, after being officially extended from four months to six. Millions of Alabamians are ready for outdoor recreation, but their nearby sewage treatment facilities may not be. Alabama still lacks comprehensive regulations for minimum standards of public notification when sewage spills occur.
In 2015, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Choccolocco Creek Watershed Alliance, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Coosa Riverkeeper, and Logan Martin Lake Protection Association convinced the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to increase the legally defined summer recreation season by 50%, adding May and October. ADEM had previously included May and October in the winter season when sewage plants are allowed to discharge higher levels of harmful bacteria and other pollutants.
The Environmental Management Commission (EMC), which oversees ADEM, adopted that suggestion to lengthen the legally defined summer recreation season in December of 2016. Additionally, the E. coli limit during that season was lowered 40% from 487 col/100mL (colony growing units of E. Coli bacteria per 100 milliliters of water) to 298 col/100mL. The improved regulations went into effect on February 3, 2017, but health threats remain for Alabamians due to inadequate public notifications when sewage spills occur.
In March of 2017, Waterkeepers Alabama (Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Coosa Riverkeeper, Hurricane Creekkeeper, Little River Waterkeeper, Mobile Baykeeper, and Tennessee Riverkeeper) worked with Alabama Rivers Alliance to file a petition for rulemaking with the EMC. The petition sought to improve the minimum requirements imposed on sewage treatment facilities for public notification of sewage spills.
Although the Commission denied the petition, they agreed to work with ADEM and the public to determine the need for additional notification rules. In May of 2017, ADEM launched an opt-in email sewage spill notification system which Waterkeepers Alabama and the Alabama Rivers Alliance requested. The water advocacy groups relayed their appreciation for this progress while continuing to promote their petition’s additional suggestions for protecting Alabamians from sewage overflows. That effort continues because ADEM’s sewage notification tools are limited to email and only as effective as the information supplied by local wastewater system operators.
Unfortunately, Alabamians continue to see lag time in reporting or even no reporting from some sewage system operators. Waterkeepers Alabama and the Alabama Rivers Alliance contend that ADEM’s tools do not relieve the local sewage treatment systems of their obligation to notify the nearby public in harm’s way. The groups believe that notification must contain a local component to reach those Alabama citizens who do not have access to email and the internet or who may not know about ADEM’s notification program.
Waterkeepers Alabama and the Alabama Rivers Alliance have again asked the EMC to amend their regulations to supply this critical local component. The groups want to ensure that every person who uses the river, every swimmer and fisherman have the best information available to make informed decisions enabling them to stay safe. The petitioners, therefore, continue to pressure the EMC to amend its regulations to provide minimum standards regarding public notification, including these items from their petition:
~12 hours to notify public if the spill is “notifiable sanitary sewer event”
~Physically post site, affected areas (defined) after the sewage spill
~Social media and news media notification
~Opt-in list for email, text and/or telephone notification
~An enforceable response plan to incorporate these requirements
“Alabamians will not be able to make informed decisions about water recreation until Alabama has a sewage spill notification system that combines state and local components with a clear, detailed, and enforceable plan,” said Eva Dillard, staff attorney, Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
Little River Waterkeeper is a licensed member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a growing 350 plus member international organization dedicated to Clean Water, Clean Air and Healthy Communities. Little River Waterkeeper is the legal voice for your Little River located on Lookout Mountain in Northeast Alabama. The Little River Watershed is in the northeastern portion of the Upper Coosa Watershed and has a drainage basin of approximately 199 square miles. The headwaters of the Little River and its East Fork and West Fork tributaries are in Dade, Walker, and Chattooga Counties, Georgia. Then Little River flows southwesterly, then, easterly through DeKalb and Cherokee Counties, Alabama into Weiss Lake. The majority of the watershed is located in DeKalb County with Little River flowing through Desoto State Park and Little River Canyon National Preserve. Little River attracts more than 4000,000 visitors each year. The river supports abundant plant and wildlife and gives us crisp, cool waters to enjoy during the summer months. Clean water is a resource we can all be thankful for. Even though we consider it a basic human right, not everyone has access to clean water. The Little River Waterkeeper monitors and patrols regularly to ensure this right for all users and stakeholders.
Earlier this month, Little River Waterkeeper, Bill Shugart, met with the Executive Director and staff from Alabama Rivers Alliance to plan for three exciting opportunities. ARA’s policy director Curt Chaffin, is working with Bill to designate Little River as a “Wild and Scenic River.” Our amazing resource currently holds the highest designation given by the EPA; Outstanding National Resource Water that protects it from degradation. By adding the Wild & Scenic title, Little River will be recognized as possessing outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, and cultural values. We would like to thank Curt and ARA for the work they do to protect rivers in the hydrologically abundant state of Alabama. Please take a minute and look at all of the great work Alabama Rivers Alliance is doing by visiting www.alabamarivers.org.
The next point of our meeting with ARA is really exciting. As many of our supporters know, Little River Waterkeeper hosts Southern Exposure Films each year to bring awareness of Alabama’s amazing biodiversity and the issues we face. The innovative Southern Exposure summer fellowship brings emerging filmmakers from across the country to tell authentic, engaging stories through short documentary films about Alabama’s environment — and the people who cherish it — from the mountains to the coast. This summer, Little River was chosen as a film topic! And, even better, the fellow chosen to make this film grew up going to the Little River all the time, so is very familiar and VERY excited to be assigned this topic. Part of the film will include our effort to designate Little River as Wild and Scenic. Filming will take place in June and July and a special premier screening will take place in Birmingham at the Altamont School on September 12, 2019. The Little River Waterkeeper will also hold a Southern Exposure Film Festival in October that will highlight the film about Little River along with films from other fellows.
The third point if the meeting with ARA was strategic planning. As part of our organization’s mission to deliver quality programs to the community we serve, Alabama Rivers Alliance will assist the Little River Waterkeeper in a strategic planning session in August. This important planning process will help us determine the course of the organization for the next three years. If there is a direction that you would like to see your Little River waterkeeper include, we encourage feedback from you, our supporters who know and love Little River as much as we do. Please send your suggestions to Bill Shugart by email at email@example.com.
“Know before you go!” is the slogan we use for our summer SwimGuide program. May 22nd kicked off a season of weekly water testing in 8 popular swimming locations throughout the Little River Watershed and will continue through Labor Day Weekend. A list of the test sites are listed below. It is our commitment to everyone who rely on clean water for swimming and other forms of recreation to make sure water quality standards are being met in Little River. What is the problem with swimming in water that doesn’t meet water quality standards? Primary contact with water containing high levels of faecal bacteria and other pollutants can lead to disease, infection, and rashes. Swallowing contaminated water can lead to gastrointestinal infection such as nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. More serious diseases and illnesses may also be contracted in heavily polluted waters including typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, and dysentery. Each Thursday, test results will be published on TheSwimGuide.org, LittleRiverWaterkeeper.org and our Facebook and Instagram pages in an easy to read map with red or green flags, no or go. If you are like us and love water science, volunteer to grab weekly water samples. Contact us for more info!
List of test sites
Canyon Mouth Park
Join the Little River Waterkeeper Swim Club!!
Little River Waterkeeper’s Swim Club is a membership campaign tied directly to Swim Guide water quality monitoring program. People can donate $10 to join Swim Club and sponsor a sample. In return we write the donor’s name on one of the Swim Guide samples, take a photo of that sample in the field, and post it on social media and tag the donor. It’s a really direct way to connect the donation with our work.
As always, thank you for your ongoing support and encouragement! Have a wonderful summer. We hope to see you on the water!