Patrolling Our Waterways After Hurricane Nate: Upper Baldwin County

On October 9th and 10th, after Hurricane Nate had moved out of Mobile and Baldwin Counties, Mobile Baykeeper’s Program team and AmeriCorps Patrol members, Ellie and Diego, hit the field to inspect high risk sites and uncover environmental impacts caused by the storm. We’ve summarized some of our observations and findings so you can understand our work as the area's environmental watchdog and the impacts these storms can have on our local environment.


Patrolling Upper Baldwin County

By  Diego Calderón-Arrieta, Baykeeper Patrol AmeriCorps Member

A light sheen and some foam can be seen on Joe's Branch downstream of a sewer overflow.

Following Hurricane Nate, Mobile Baykeeper’s patrol team inspected the D’Olive Watershed, located in the upper parts of Mobile Bay in Baldwin County. Being more inland than our patrol team in lower Mobile County, the focus of our inspections was on sewer and stormwater issues that often occur after heavy rains.

 

Sewer Issues

In Baldwin County, we first visited a swampy part of Joe’s Branch. The creek, a tributary of D'Olive Creek, had been subject to a small 30 gallon sewer overflow nearby. We tested the creek for enterococci, a bacteria commonly associated with fecal contamination, and for optical brighteners. Optical brighteners are found in laundry detergents and soap but are not found in natural streams. They are only found in streams that have sewage spills or failing septic tanks. Our tests for optical brighteners came back extremely high indicating that pollution from the nearby sewage system or a failing septic tank was in the creek. Our bacteria reading, 533 CFU/100mL, more than 5 times the EPA threshold for swimming, further showed that it was likely sewage or septic was entering the creek.

We also took samples in D'Olive Creek at Gator Alley. Our results there (1780 CFU/100mL) also indicated sewage pollution. We'll continue to follow this issue and attempt to determine the source of these high levels of bacteria.

Stormwater Issues

In Timber Creek we documented what appeared to be the intentional pumping out of a muddy pond downstream of a construction site. This egregious practice puts dirty, muddy stormwater directly into D'Olive Creek. D'Olive Creek is a waterway that has been the subject of millions of dollars of restoration to prevent it from running brown with mud. This is a violation of ADEM rules and a shot to all those working so hard to protect and restore D'Olive Creek.

We live in one of the rainiest areas in the nation. Regardless of the weather, we have to be vigilant about keeping pollutants out of our waterways. This year alone, there have been more than 24 million gallons of sewage spilled, highlighting the vital need for smart investment in infrastructure.

At Mobile Baykeeper, we are working every day to document impacts from substandard infrastructure, hold entities who threaten our natural resources accountable, and work with local leaders to make choices that safeguard these natural resources for generations to come.

For more information, contact Program Director Cade Kistler at ckistler@mobilebaykeeper.org or call 251-433-4229.