Groups seek better warnings in event of sewage spill
|Tuscaloosa News file photo|
A joint petition from nonprofits including the Alabama Rivers Alliance, the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Friends of Hurricane Creek and more asks the seven-member Environmental Management Commission to amend the ADEM code and set clearer regulations about what public notice sewage treatment facilities must provide if they are responsible for a leak, spill or overflow that sends sewage into a public waterway.
Creekkeeper John Wathen, who serves as an advocate primarily for the conservation of Hurricane Creek in Tuscaloosa, pointed to recurring problems at wastewater treatment plants in the county. Records obtained by The Tuscaloosa News from ADEM's public database show that Northport reported 20 sanitary sewer overflows last year. Tuscaloosa reported 50.
"Here in Tuscaloosa County we have seen more than our fair share of these overflows," Wathen said. "Sometimes there is notice and sometimes not. In most cases what notices that are posted are not adequate to protect human health in some cases."
Wathen cited a sewage spill in Northport last year that sent between 400,000 and 4 million gallons of sewage into three area creeks and the Black Warrior River on the weekend of Independence Day.
"Other than Northport's lightly followed Facebook page," Wathen said, "there was no public notification of the large scale spill into the river, nor was there anyone staffing the city's 24-hour emergency hotline who could tell the public about the spill or the consequences to public health."
Black Warrior Riverkkeeper Nelson Brooke echoed Wathen's concerns and said Alabama residents have a fundamental right to know if and when there is untreated sewage in their waterways.
"Operators of treatment plants in Alabama must do a better job of adequately notifying the public when sewage spills happen, especially so that folks who are swimming, fishing, and recreating downstream do not put their health at risk," Brooke said.
According to a news release from the petitioners, if the Environmental Management Commission grants their petition, ADEM will solicit public comment on their proposed rule and decide whether or not to adopt it.
A copy of their petition can be found at blackwarriorriver.org.