Saturday, August 13, 2016

Sewer update, Little Hurricane Creek

Lift station 39 @ Little Hurricane Creek

Today there were no trucks around the lift station and the area has been cleaned well. After speaking with Tuscaloosa Sewer department I have learned that the sample results show below normal bacterial count in Little Hurricane Creek in all but one place which is right at the overflow site. That is to be expected.

The site has been cleaned with disinfectant and I saw no solid waste on the ground. Thanks to Tuscaloosa Sewer Dep for the cleanup efforts and notifying us of the sample results.

One thing that makes me feel better is the presence of SCADA monitoring. It sends a message instantly to the main department letting them know quickly when an overflow occurs. If I am correct in saying that it is SCADA equipped then the response time would be greatly shortened compared to the huge overflow in Northport a few weeks back. The Friends of Hurricane Creek thank them.

While there's still room to grow, Tuscaloosa is far better at reporting than in years past.  

The overflow site is about 26 miles from the PARA park on 216. Factor in the recent afternoon showers to help break it down and I am a lot less concerned today than yesterday. I can not say without doubt that all is clear but if it means anything, I will probably go swimming this afternoon after work.

PS> I just got a message from Tuscaloosa saying the situation has been permanently repaired. Again thanks for communicating.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Outdoor Action by UofA Outdoor action!

Every year we get a load of volunteers from the University of Alabama, Outdoor Action group. This year was no less impressive than years past. Between 90 and 100 students and staff showed up ready to work again this year.
University of Alabama, 2016 Outdoor Action group

There were enough students to split up into 3 groups to cover more ground.
Alabama Power Co Pavilion at Hurricane Creek Park

Group 1 concentrated on the new PARA park on Hurricane Creek. 

Alabama Power Co. was kind enough to donate $35,000 to the park for a new pavilion. With budget issues and new parks added to the PARA list, money was a bit tight to finish the landscaping. 

For some time now it has stood looking pretty rough. Weeds grew where grass should have been and erosion was beginning to take a toll on the slopes.

The first matter of business was to get the soil ready for grass using rakes and sling blades. By the time the students were ready to work the Tuscaloosa PARA staff showed up with a pallet of sod, hay bales, seed, and fertilizer.

Part of he crew set about raking and grooming while others set up a relay line to pass sod to it's new home. They worked like a well oiled machine.

So well in fact that Para staff decided to bring out more hay, seed, fertilizer and helped set up the erosion control so we will not have to worry about this section any more.


 I can't say enough good things about PARA and the way they turned this into such a huge success. 

By the end of the day the pavilion area looked as well groomed as some KOA campgrounds! The students that worked on this project came back proud of the effort and will be able to bring their children here one day to see the nice picnic pavilion they helped create. 
APCO Pavilion at Hurricane Creek Park seen from Hwy 216 bridge
The second group started at Largin Shoals above the Holt Peterson Rd. and walked downstream to Watson's Bend removing scrap metal left over from the tornado of 2011 and other debris washed in including several tires.

Many stayed in the campground at Watson's Bend to clear paths to the water and give the main activity grounds a facelift. Since this part of the creek was directly impacted by the tornado it was interesting to hear the students talking about how well the forest was recovering.

They cut and groomed the access points to the swimming areas as well as picked up litter. When it rained a bit they worked even harder. One student told me "At least it's warm rain"  

Since the tornado of April 27, 2011 we have seen a tremendous recovery of the forest around the campground but along with that regeneration comes invasive species such as privet. Without these volunteers it would be impossible for me to keep it under control alone. 

During a lunch break I took time to answer questions and tell them about some of the threats to the watershed and community. Many seemed genuinely concerned and disappointed to learn that this site where we had such fun was going to be destroyed by Alabama Power Co. for a power line Right of Way. The very benefactor who donated the shed at the PARA park. 

It's important for these new members of our community to understand that not all progress is good progress. They completely understood the irony of a forest that survived the most powerful tornado in our recent history would not survive Alabama Power Co. 

The third group started out at Watson's Bend and walked almost to the Black Warrior River also removing hundreds of pounds of tires and other debris. 

They were met at the take out by Dr. Doug Woodward who was more than happy to use his super cool 4 wheel drive to pull the bulk of the haul out for them.

After loading the days catch on my trailer we headed back to Watson's Bend for some well deserved R&R!

Watson's Bend Campground
The swimming hole

Outdoor Action 2016, Thank you one and all!

SEWER OVERFLOW on Little Hurricane Creek

Official release from Tuscaloosa medial dep. (Writers note... This is the second overflow at this exact same site in a week.) I'd like to thank the city of Tuscaloosa for adding us to the notification system so we can advise our membership of potential health issues stemming from sewer overflows.

"A lift station pump failure near Little Hurricane Creek was detected and corrected.
Out of an abundance of caution, the City of Tuscaloosa advises that people should not enter nor use the water in Little Hurricane Creek east of the intersection of State Highway 11 and Daimler Benz Boulevard to Little Hurricane Creek at Highway 11 until further notice. This is the same area already under notice.
There is no immediate danger. The water is being testing, and we are monitoring conditions.
Media contact: Deidre Stalnaker,, 205-534-0811 (cell)
Stay up to date on all City of Tuscaloosa news via social media:
Twitter | @TuscaloosaCity<>
Facebook | City of Tuscaloosa ­ Government<>
Instagram | @TuscaloosaCity<>

At about 2. PM this afternoon, Aug. 08, 2016 the Tuscaloosa Sewer Lift station located at the Mercedes plant looked like it was still out of commission in spite of the official statement by the city that "A lift station pump failure near Little Hurricane Creek was detected and corrected." There were still several vacuum trucks on site used to suction raw sewage from the wet well when pumps are out.

There was heavy rain with storm-water runoff leaving the pump station and flowing directly into Little Hurricane Creek. Just outside the fence I saw a public health hazard sign in the path of the storm water seen flowing to the creek.

Just down grade from the station there was another set of signs set right on the creek bank. The creek had a lot more flow in it than the last overflow here so I feel it may have a better chance of hitting Hurricane Creek by Sat. or Sun. The city hasn't given any figures on the amount and duration of the overflow but we hope to hear from them soon on that.

There was a disturbed area right on the creek bank. I'm not sure what this was caused by but it created a soft area where I would expect to see accumulation of bacteria. I neither saw or smelled any form of disinfectant, just 2 signs facing away from the road.

This site is approximately 22 miles North, by water from the PARA Hurricane Creek Park and 26 miles from the Watson's Bend bridge on Holt Peterson Rd. Without the actual numbers of gallons spilled and the content I can not say the creek is safe or not at this point. There was a heavy downpour at the time I was there. That will help push any contamination farther south faster than normal. By Sat. or Sunday we should be seeing any problems if they occur. Friends of Hurricane Creek will be making arrangements to have sampling done ASAP and determine if there is actually any threat to health this far down stream.
Stay safe this weekend folks. Wait until the all clear before entering the water.
We will keep you posted as we find out more. For the time being, out of an abundance of caution, I would not advise swimming in the creek this weekend just for safety sake.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hurricane Creek Thanks You!

The 2016 Hurricane Creek Cleanup 2016 is over and the day well spent.

Some years have larger attendance than others while some are more energetic. This year was a complete success because we had both a good sized gathering of energetic people working for Hurricane Creek and having fun in the process.

This year like every year for the last 23 years we met at Watson's Bend to begin and ended up in the same place with food on the table and great people to share the event with.

Friends of Hurricane Creek would like to extend a hearty thank you to all who came out in spite of the early rain. All of the good energy came together and blew the clouds away leaving us with a perfectly beautiful day on the creek.

There were a lot of youngsters who came out to help as well. This is what it is all about for us. Getting the kids out there with parents having fun together. Too many kids today are addicted to the button life of computers, electronic games, and TV. The way they will learn about nature is to be in nature. This type learning doesn't come in books.

Elders and youngsters alike came out on a rainy day to work for the community. Many of these folks have been around since day one and we could not do without them. We also depend on the new faces every year to keep the mission alive and on track. 

From the Friends of Hurricane Creek to all of the volunteers who cam out to help we offer you our most profound thanks for being there and making it a special day for us all!

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Bird Dogging Hurricane Creek

It's Spring and time for another report from the air about creek conditions and other points of interest. 
My good friend and SouthWings pilot Tom Kahlert picked me up in his replica of a vintage Bird Dog surveillance plane for the mission. The Bird Dog is an excellent platform for photography. Two seats are aligned front to back with all windows capable of opening. From his seat in the front, the pilot can see every target I am looking at. With a pilot as experienced as Tom there's very little need for correction.

Bama Belle

Leaving Bama Air we flew north along the Black Warrior River through town. First up was the Bama Belle parked at the city pier.

Cotton Blossom

Right above the Bama Belle was the newest addition to Tuscaloosa's stern wheel fleet, the Cotton Blossom. William and Fonda Sherrill of Tuscaloosa County purchased the historic showboat the Cotton Blossom in Manderson, La., and traveled the Intracoastal Waterway for 12 days to get to Tuscaloosa. Built in 1928, the Cotton Blossom was the boat featured in the film "Show Boat" in 1951, based on the Broadway musical, which takes place on the Mississippi River. I'll write more on this one later.

Over the years I have seen seen the University of Alabama grow along the river. Many new buildings and landscaping that was not always done using the most protective measures for the river.

This sediment bar has grown exponentially with the University. New people are using newer techniques to contain the run-off with pretty good results but the signs of the past are still visible from the air.

 The work on the new entrance to the University is a measure of the new containment. Not much run-off could be seen at all. I returned later with Black Warrior Riverkeeper to check it out from his boat and it looked to be in good shape.


On a heading from town to the mouth of Hurricane Creek I spotted smoke in the vicinity of an unpermitted landfill that has been known to catch fire so we flew over the area. Directly across from Holt High School we found a house on fire.

At first it was just smoking but after a couple of passes we saw a house just beginning to burn. No fire trucks were visible so we called the tower and had them report it. Within minutes Tuscaloosa Fire Dep. showed up and we left to finish the flight. I found out later that no one was hurt.

We were already over Holt so it made sense to shoot over to the Eagle Bluff Landfill or as my dear friend Nancy Callahan refers to it... "Buzzards Roost"
I like to call it Mount Trashkaloosa. 
It is, in my opinion the nastiest scar on the horizon. The bright red mounds of dirt covering metric tons of debris with more coming every day. It has been impossible to get the state or even EPA to enforce the rules set in place to protect our community or Hurricane Creek.

 It towers above the hills and what trees are left after the tornado of 2011. In the summer when it's dry clouds of dust can be seen rising from the trash mountain blowing across the hills and people.In winter rainy season it stays wet for the most part. Huge trucks enter and leave with mud caked on their tires spreading it through the streets where it dries into micro fine dust that people have to breathe. I have visited residents who have to change air conditioner filters far more frequently because of the dust in the home. Furniture and plants stay covered with dust outside making it almost impossible to enjoy the outdoors.

 Even going to the mailbox is a dangerous adventure for some residents as this photo demonstrates. The pavement is 12 feet from this lady's home and only 15 feet from her living room, kitchen and dining room table. She says the noise and dust are very bad inside her home.
I have witnessed it and agree.

Just up the street is the local cemetery. What I have, and continue see the landfill traffic do to this community should be considered criminal. According to Title 6 of the Clean Water Act dealing with disproportionate impact to communities of poverty, race, or ethnicity is not allowed, however the overwhelming numbers of landfills like this one are in just such communities.

 From the air you can see the mud caked street. The side of the road has built up a foot in places from all the mud creating rivulets and rills where it pours off the road heading to Hurricane Creek.

The truck tires pass within 3 feet of family graves. I have witnessed whole funeral processions stopped in total gridlock with trash truck drivers arrogantly gesturing and cursing people who are grieving.

 No community should have to endure such treatment.

According to the permit this facility must control litter, cover ALL waste must be completely covered by the close of business on Fri., maintain vegetative cover on all closed slopes, and regular cleaning of facility entrance to control off-site sediment tracking. (ADEM permit #ALR160090 section 4, storm water control measures, paragraph 4.2)

Landfill from Creek Road 01/04/14

 The last time this slope was covered by my photo records was in Jan of 2014.  Even then it wasn't completely covered and some of the same trash can still be seen sticking out of the slope.

Landfill from Creek Road 03/12/16

 This photo taken 03/12/16 shows the trash pile higher but not covered and trash flagging out of the eroded slopes. ADEM inspector Janna McIndoe has repeatedly since early 2014 made comments to the effect that the erosion rills and trash should be covered. This photo was taken on a Sunday indicating a lack of cover violation.

  She states on May 14, 2015 "Continue working to correct seeps and repair erosion rills"
The seeps can be seen here with the deep and dark green patches of grass right next to the huge erosion rills! Taken 03/13/16.

This one was taken 12/01/15. Not much has been done to correct anything from what I see since 05/14/15.
It's time for ADEM to start taking enforcement seriously. The new structure of funding whereby ADEM is financed through the permits issued it is unlikely that we will see anything different any time soon. ADEM claims their job is not to enforce the Clean Water Act but to issue permits. Is it any wonder why landfills like this one get away with such chronic non compliance? I could go on for pages about this polluter but I'll save it for another post.

Onward and upward to the mouth of Hurricane Creek. It was somewhat turbid but nowhere as bad as I have seen it in the past. I'm not sure exactly why but I'd like to think the presence of Friends of Hurricane Creek had a lot to do with the decrease over the years.
Upstream we came upon the WATCO RR bridge over the creek. A vast section of it was blown down during the tornado on Apr 27, 2011. Scott Bridge Co. did an exceptional job of replacing the bridge while having "0" upsets or bad discharges into Hurricane Creek. Even today almost 5 years later the best management practices including check dams, silt fences and all stone work area can be seen in place. They proved that good stewardship can also be profitable.

This is the parking lot at the PARA Hurricane Creek Park 
We could see from the air the impacts of using what is basically mine waste for aggregate under the pavement for roads and parking areas. I have been very concerned with the practice of mines selling rock associated with coal excavation. It is not a very stable material as it contains shale, clay, silicates, and even coal. Anywhere I have seen it used it breaks down in sunlight even without traffic. When used to under-pave streets and parking lots it breaks down causing holes which lead to chronic repair issues. 
It this case it was made worse by using it for a french drain to channel a spring through the waste to the creek.
Due to planning errors the contractor decided to build this.
The trench was filled with 24 inches of mine waste. It is approved for aggregate by DOT specs but an ALDOT (Alabama Dep of Transportation) representative told me recently they don't use it anymore due to suspected environmental issues and it doesn't hold up. (( I was recently informed by ALDOT that the pit where this came from is NOT on the approved list of suppliers of aggregate. Comment added 06/22/16)) You can look in the ditches along the edge of Hwy 216 and see where it is crumbling even with no traffic on it. The rock brought in to fill this had coal visible in the loads. I commented to the contractor that it wasn't very stable. He said it was approved and cheap so he was using it anyway.

We went from this on 12/18/15

To this on 03/28/16.
 I am going to do a series about this as time goes by but here is a look at where the rock comes from...
This is the Howton Mine, just off Hwy 216. 

It also is a source of mine rock that is not much better than waste. The tiny black pile between the rock pile and the active mine is all the coal visible. It looked pretty obvious that more rock was being sold than coal.

Looking straight into the working face you can see the bright orange stain of iron which indicated potential acid mine drainage issues. But look further where the rock is being excavated. That is being sold as aggregate and used for parking lots like the one at Hurricane Creek Park.

TRI was another source of the rock / waste. 

Here is it's discharge into a tributary of Hurricane Creek.

Black Warrior Minerals coal mine was the first mine given a waiver to change post mine land use from reclaimed forest land to a rock quarry selling the very material needed to reclaim according to the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation act of 1977. It states that mines must be reclaimed to their "approximate original contour"

Here's the discharge into Hurricane Creek on 02/07/08 and again on 03/28/16


It has been bleeding orange as long as it has been here. Once this acidic drainage starts it can almost never be stopped. Lower grades of coal bear more Sulfur than the higher grades but it all contains it in varying degrees. Once it is exposed to water and oxygen it becomes Sulfuric acid and begins to dissolve the rocks around it, releasing heavy metals and other substances toxic to fish and wildlife. 

I will be working with several federal agencies as well as Black Warrior Riverkeeper to address this and try to keep this from continuing. 

In just a few short months you can see the signatory yellow / orange staining at the Hurricane Creek Park where the french drain discharges over the rocks.
It has become very slick so be careful when walking across it. 

Above I mentioned TRI (Tuscaloosa Resources Inc.) They were a source of litigation for us years ago.
It also had a waiver for rock / mine waste sales but as an addition to that it was allowed to become a slurry pond where water is being discharged from a slurry dredge operating in the old Drummond pit along 216. Due to some bad business decision by Walter Energy they wold up closing the mine that supplied both slurry and water to the dredge so it sits high and dry.

Water from here was pumped into the TRI abandoned pit where it discharges through seeps in the blast fractured terrain and discharges to Weldon Creek, a tributary of Hurricane Creek.

It wasn't all about gloom and doom. The return over the "M" Bend showed Spring was just around the corner and that's always something to behold on Hurricane Creek. Watch for my Spring 2016 floral collection of photos coming soon to a PC near you.