The Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s website should probably be the first clue that the department doesn’t understand its responsibility to alert the public to dangerous environmental issues.
That website, which appears to be designed around the time people were still messaging in AOL chatrooms, states near the bottom that it is best viewed in Internet Explorer 7.
That version of Explorer was released in 2006.
So, no, it shouldn’t be a surprise that ADEM is still as slow as dial-up in getting information out to the public. Vital, important information.
Like the fact that a Tyson plant had dumped thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater into the Black Warrior River. And that wastewater had produced toxic, dangerous levels of E. coli bacteria in the water.
The water where kids were swimming. And pets were drinking. And people were fishing for dinner.
That spill occurred on June 6. And ADEM tested the water near the spill site and several miles downstream.
Those tests showed incredibly high levels of bacteria in the water. Dangerous levels.
Levels that should have sent ADEM officials to their 2006 website and email list to alert the public to avoid the areas, keep their pets and kids away, don’t eat the fish.
Instead, on Wednesday, for the very first time, the nonprofit group Black Warrior Riverkeepers publicized the tests, giving the public its first alert to the dangerous conditions.
Nearly three months later.
Because who really needs to know that E. Coli levels in the water where they’re swimming are 32 times the danger level.
That’s right. Thirty-two times.
And that was six miles downstream on the day of the spill.
A day later, 14 miles downstream, the levels were 35 times higher than considered safe.
Let me put that in better context for you: If you tested water anywhere in this state and found that E. Coli levels were 1/35th of the E. Coli levels found in the Black Warrior on June 7, that water would still be too dangerous to swim in.
ADEM conducted these tests. Found those results.
And then didn’t tell a soul.
It’s like that episode of “Seinfeld” where the car rental place didn’t hold the car that Jerry reserved. “You know how to take the reservation,” he tells the employee, “but you don’t know how to hold the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation.”
Same concept here.
ADEM did fine testing the water. But it’s the publicizing of those test results that’s really the most important part.
But rest easy, ADEM is investigating what happened and looking into the allegations by the Black Warrior Riverkeepers and a statement is expected on Thursday at some point.
There’s not much to investigate, really. The test results are right on the ADEM website now, with the dates and numbers for all to see. BWR tweeted out a screenshot of the test results on Wednesday. Those tests were clearly completed in the days after the spill, and we all know that ADEM didn’t alert anyone to anything.
Look, I’ve heard all of the excuses from ADEM employees and ADEM supporters. I get that the Department is underfunded severely and that there are good people who are overworked and underpaid.
But come on. This is basic stuff. Stuff that could save lives and doctor’s bills. Stuff that could be accomplished with a cell phone and a Facebook page.
For too long now, ADEM has existed as an entity whose sole purpose was to serve as a buffer between the EPA and major corporations. To work around hefty fines. To help roll back penalties.
ADEM, in its current configuration and under its current management, is doing a disservice to the people of Alabama. And the Department’s incompetence isn’t merely costing us dollars. It’s also making us less safe.
Any governor who cared at all about the people she served would have long ago corrected this problem.
Bidens suggest that Hurricane Sally due to climate change
Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, released a joint statement this week on Hurricane Sally, suggesting that the hurricane and fires in the West are due in part to or exacerbated by climate change.
“Jill and I are praying for everyone from the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida and up the East Coast into the Carolinas as Hurricane Sally unleashes fury and flood that are leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power and evacuating their homes and businesses,” the Bidens wrote. “Our hearts are also with everyone in California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and across the West who have lost everything and the firefighters and first responders who are risking their lives as the wildfires rage on and ash falls from an orange sky.”
“Every year the devastating impacts of climate change — in billions of dollars in damage, in immeasurable loss of lives and livelihoods — sets new records of destruction in big cities, small towns, on coastlines, and farmlands across the country,” the Bidens wrote. “It is happening everywhere. It is happening now. And it’s all happening while we fight off a historic pandemic and economic recession.”
But it doesn’t have to be this bad, the Bidens wrote.
“We have to come together as a nation guided by science that can save lives,” the Bidens wrote. “And grounded by economics that can create millions of American jobs — union jobs — to make us safe, stronger, and more resilient to a changing climate and extreme weather that will only come with more frequency and ferocity.”
“And we have to keep the faith in the capacity of the American people — to act, not deny, to lead, not scapegoat, and to care for each other and generations to come,” the Bidens concluded.
Hurricanes are not new to the Alabama Gulf Shore. Since 1852, at least 27 hurricanes have hit the state of Alabama gulf coast, with Katrina in 2005 being the most recent until Sally on Wednesday.
By comparison there were four hurricanes to strike the state between 1912 and 1917 and five between 1852 and 1860.
Democrats claim that President Donald Trump’s policies on climate change are having a negative effect on the planet and that a Biden administration would be better at reducing U.S. CO2 emissions.
Biden and Trump will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
Plume site under downtown Montgomery removed from EPA superfund priority list
A toxic plume that formed underneath several blocks of downtown Montgomery is being removed from the EPA’s superfund priority list after years of cleanup efforts have reduced the threat to the public, the agency and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management announced on Wednesday.
Known as the Capital City Plume, the 50-block area of contaminated groundwater and soil covered much of downtown Montgomery and required millions of dollars in remediation costs. The city, county and a coalition of downtown businesses took control of the site in 2015, in an agreement with the EPA, and sped up cleanup efforts.
The site was first discovered in 1993 and the EPA took control shortly thereafter, but very little remediation occurred because the agency could not definitively identify businesses that were responsible for the contamination.
The city’s agreement with EPA put to rest the issue of responsibility and allowed for a shared responsibility that apparently resulted in faster cleanup.
“This is validation of all the hard work by many parties – city, county, state, federal and business entities – over many years to address and resolve a real environmental challenge,” said ADEM Director Lance LeFleur. “It couldn’t have happened without all the parties deciding we needed a plan to tackle the problem and agreeing to work together to carry it out. Now, this area of downtown Montgomery that has already seen significant redevelopment and reuse can blossom even more.”
The removal of the site from the National Priorities List should also remove burdensome and costly testing that hampered additional growth in many areas of downtown Montgomery.
“This announcement charts a path forward for our community and is essential to our vision for a stronger, more vibrant downtown core,” Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed said. “We commend the collaboration and steady resolve of the Alliance, ADEM, the EPA and everyone involved in doing what is right for our city and our region. Moving forward, we are committed to continue building on this success as we expand economic opportunity and progress in Montgomery.”
The Downtown Alliance, as the collection of businesses, city, county and state government entities was known, was the brainchild of former Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange and attorneys negotiating with the EPA. At the time, it was a first-of-its-kind agreement.
Alabama Power extends summer pool on Lake Martin into fall
Last week, Alabama Power announced that it is extending the summer pool on Lake Martin into fall, allowing more boating and recreational opportunities than would be possible if the implementation of the winter drawdown began last Tuesday as scheduled.
Hydro Services manager Jim Crew said that the fall extension is granted because water is plentiful throughout the Tallapoosa and Coosa river basins and conditions are met at Alabama Power dams across the system.
Until Oct. 15, Lake Martin’s water level will remain at 491 feet mean sea level. After that date, the level gradually will be drawn down to 484 feet mean sea level by the third week of November. The seasonal drawdown has several advantages, the most important of which is flood prevention. The winter pool level provides storage space in the reservoir system for spring rains.
At the local level, the lower water allows repairs and improvements to docks that are underwater during the summer. The drawdown also allows more access to the lake bottom during winter cleanup efforts and assists in the control of some invasive weed species along the shoreline as well.
Alexander City Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ed Collari said that extending the summer pool level offers economic benefits to Lake Martin communities that provide services to part-time lake residents and visitors.
“Economically, that’s great news for our community,” Collari said. “The increased lake levels will allow people to continue to enjoy the lake into the fall. We’ve seen already this year what having people here around the lake will do, as that’s reflected in our community sales tax levels. The higher water level will encourage people to spend more time in our communities.”
Alabama Power is licensed to operate Martin Dam and manage the reservoir. The license stipulates Sept. 1 as the drawdown commencement date unless four specific criteria are met, indicating that the system of reservoirs on the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers contains enough water to maintain navigation levels downstream.
The conditional fall extension of the summer pool is new to the licensing terms for Lake Martin. It was not included in license terms of Alabama Power’s earlier licenses, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission added it to the license issued in December 2015 after the lake community overwhelmingly argued for it.
Analysis of data at that time indicated the fall extension could be expected to occur about once every four years; however, this is the third year since the license has been in effect the fall extension has been granted.
Rainfall has been far above average in the Lake Martin area this year. Normal precipitation for the period of January through August is just under 39 inches, but more than 54 inches of rain have fallen in the lake area so far, according to the National Weather Service.
Alabama Power representatives urge boaters to enjoy the extension of summer safely.
Individuals with boats and other water-related equipment and facilities should always be alert to changing conditions on Alabama Power reservoirs and be prepared to take the necessary steps to protect their properties.
Manmade lakes across Alabama provide fishing, boating and recreational opportunities to people across Alabama. It also provides habitat for wildlife including ducks, geese, turtles and many other water birds including seagulls.
The lakes provide plenty of cheap, renewable electric power through the hydro-electric dams Alabama Power operates while increasing shoreline habitat and flood control.
For more information about Alabama Power lakes, download the new Smart Lakes app or visit apcshorelines.com. You can call 800-525-3711 for lake condition updates.
Alabama fishermen will get extra red snapper days in October
The additional days will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, and run until midnight on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced Friday that after completing a review of the 2020 private angler red snapper season that ended July 3, 2020, they determined that three additional days can be added to the private angler recreational season. The additional days will begin at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10, and run until midnight on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020.
The additional red snapper fishing days apply to state of Alabama waters as well as federal waters adjacent to Alabama. The limit will be two fish per angler with a 16-inch total length minimum size.
ADCNR’s Marine Resources Division reviewed landing estimates derived from angler reports submitted through Alabama’s Snapper Check system and determined that additional days are available in order to achieve the 2020 red snapper quota.
“The 2020 private angler season started out with record setting fishing effort,” said MRD director Scott Bannon. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made outdoors recreation more important than ever, and that showed during this year’s red snapper season. That higher level of early season effort ultimately led to the closure on July 3. It is important to our fishermen to provide access to this resource, and our goal is to fish the quota we’ve been given by NOAA Fisheries. We are excited to offer these additional days in October to harvest more red snapper and still stay within our quota.”
Bannon said that the preliminary harvest numbers for the private recreational sector indicate about 100,000 pounds remain in the quota of 1,122,622 pounds. The red snapper season for private recreational anglers, which includes state charter vessels, was supposed to have originally lasted 35 days, beginning the Friday of Memorial Day weekend; however, state regulators cut the season to just 25 days when they noticed an uptick in the number of boats on the water this year compared to previous years.
“The private recreational angler season went really well even though we closed a little earlier than we anticipated,” Bannon said. “The data showed a tremendous number of people took advantage of the season, especially with the opening earlier on May 22.”
Bannon said that the MRD detected a significant uptick in angler participation this year when they analyzed the data.
“The average vessel trips for the season were 713 trips per day,” Bannon said. “That means a lot of people went fishing compared to the last two years, which had an average of about 530 vessel trips per day.”
Bannon believes that the coronavirus crisis was a major factor in more Alabamians going fishing this year.
“I think people took advantage to go snapper fishing when they could not participate in other activities,” Bannon said. “They could not get on cruise ships. They couldn’t go to Disney. People were not playing travel sports. Boating was considered a safe outdoor activity, so I do think the COVID-19 pandemic affected the snapper season. I think it prompted more people to go snapper fishing than we had in the past.”
Detailed red snapper landing information is available online. Red snapper is arguably the most desired fish for saltwater fishermen to take home for the freezer. Consequentially the species is prone to overfishing. Limits on red snapper are designed to prevent the fish from being overfished.
Saltwater anglers, as well as freshwater anglers and hunters, may renew their hunting and fishing licenses beginning today.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.