By Mary Sell Montgomery Bureau
Apr 21, 2017
MONTGOMERY — A coalition of river protection groups from around the state want quicker, more widespread notifications of raw sewage overflows.
“People are swimming downstream of sewage spills and we need a better system of notification,” said Nelson Brooke, a staff member for Black Warrior Riverkeeper.
The director of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management says the proposed rule changes are unnecessary.
The Alabama Environmental Management Commission today will consider the petition from the coalition that would require faster alerts, more signage around spill areas and attempts to reach the public directly.
Current regulations require permitted sewage facilities to report to ADEM, the public, the county health department and other affected entities as “soon as possible” upon becoming aware of sanitary sewer overflows.
The problem, said Eva Dillard, an attorney for Black Warrior Riverkeeper, is that there are not specifics on what “notify” means or how to go about alerting the public.
“The end result is, the public is not being notified,” Dillard said.
Attempts to reach ADEM Director Lance LeFleur on Thursday were not successful. Earlier this month, he wrote a letter recommending the commission reject the petition.
“Alabama’s current rules already require public notification of (sanitary sewer overflows) while allowing for needed flexibility,” LeFleur wrote. “… The one-size-fits-all approach advocated by petitioners would be logistically burdensome and resource intensive, with no commensurate benefit.”
Petitioners, which include the Tennessee Riverkeeper and the Alabama River Alliance, collected spill information for 2016 and mapped it. Their data shows between 28.8 million gallons and 46.2 million gallons of sewage overflows, not including 9 percent of spills where an amount wasn’t reported.
For about 28 percent of spills, the operator admitted it did not verbally notify ADEM within 24 hours, as required by regulation. For 23 percent of spills, no effort was reported by operators to notify the public.