Conservation groups pushing for better public notification of sewage spills

Conservation groups pushing for better public notification of sewage spills
John Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper. (Source: WBRC Video)
John Wathen, Hurricane Creekkeeper. (Source: WBRC Video)

NORTHPORT, AL (WBRC) - Nine conservation groups from across the state are petitioning Alabama's Environmental Management Commission for better public notification of sewage spills and overflows.

The groups say wastewater treatment plants are legally required to notify the public immediately of sewage spills, but there are no regulations which specify a time, plan or minimum level of notification. The petition asks the commission to put these regulations in place.

The conservation groups cite last year's sewage spill into the Black Warrior River in Northport as a time when better public notification requirements
were needed.  

Friends of Hurricane Creek is one of the organizations involved in the petition. Creekkeeper John Wathen says citizens have a right to know when water
could be unsafe for swimming, fishing or other contact. "We expect some of these overflows," Wathen said. "But what we don't expect and what we won't accept is the lack of public notification when this happens. People can get very sick by being exposed to sewage."

In a news release, the conservation groups cite hepatitis, gastrointestinal disorders, dysentery, and swimmer's ear as just some of the risks of sewage
contaminant exposure.

Wathen says notification should have redundancy, including television and radio announcements, a monitored Web page, and signage at multiple locations, in multiple languages. "We're not trying to batter the municipalities into doing things that they can't afford to do." "The idea of just simply making the notice as broad as possible can start with a piece of paper."

Other organizations submitting the petition are Alabama Rivers Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Coosa Riverkeeper, Little River Waterkeeper, Mobile Baykeeper, and Tennessee Riverkeeper.

"With another recreation season almost upon us, the petitioners look forward to working productively with the Commission to ensure that the petition process yields the strongest, most comprehensive public notification rule possible," Black Warrior Riverkeeper staff attorney Eva Dillard said in a release.
ADEM Public Relations Chief Jerome Hand tells WBRC the department has received the petition and is still formulating its position and putting together a statement. Hand says the department must get that position statement to the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, prior to its April 21 meeting.

To see the petition, click here.

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