Alabama water protection groups release interactive map of sewage spills

Nine water protection groups released an interactive map of sewage spills around the state in 2016.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBMA) - You can now locate sewage spills around Alabama in 2016.

In an effort to better inform the public on Rivers of Alabama Day, the Cahaba Riverkeeper along with eight more water protection groups from across the state have released an interactive map showing all of the sewage spills that were reported to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management during 2016.

According to Cahaba Riverkeeper spokesperson David Butler, the Alabama Rivers Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Coosa Riverkeeper, Friends of Hurricane Creek, Little River Waterkeeper, Mobile Baykeeper and Tennessee Riverkeeper collaborated to create the map.

The groups developed the map to educate the public and make the case for better public notification of these spills. The map, an easy-to-use tool, allows the public to see what spills were reported in their neighborhoods, communities and favorite recreational waterways.

“The map is an important tool to complement our Swim Guide program and educate the public,” says David Butler, Cahaba Riverkeeper. “We hope the map and the petition lead the EMC to understand the severity of sewage spills and compels them to vote to protect the people’s health.”

The groups recently sent a petition to ADEM’s Environmental Management Commission (EMC) asking that regulations be put in place which specify how sewage treatment facilities must notify the public when they spill raw sewage. On April 21, the EMC will vote whether to approve the petition. Lance LeFleur, ADEM director, has asked the EMC to deny the petition.

Between 28.8 and 46.2 million gallons of sewage overflows were reported in 2016, not including the 9 percent of reported spills that did not include a volume estimate. The actual number of sewage spills across Alabama last year is higher than the map indicates, because the data reported were incomplete and many recurring spill locations were not reported, even though required by law.

For 28 percent of sewage spills, the operator admitted that verbal notification to ADEM did not occur within 24 hours, as required. For 23 percent of spills, no effort was reported toward notifying the public, although “immediate notification” of the public is currently required by regulation.

Although wastewater treatment plants are required by Alabama law to immediately notify the public of sewage spills, no regulations specify a time, plan or minimum level of spill that requires notification, even though sanitary sewer overflows pose a substantial public health risk and environmental hazard.

The groups filing the petition contend that citizens have a fundamental right to know when their local streams and rivers are unsafe for swimming, fishing and other recreation to protect themselves and their families from the serious consequences of sewage pollution.

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