On Monday, 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 the work Mobile Baykeeper does as the area's environmental watchdog and the impacts that these storms can have on our local environment.
Patrolling Lower Mobile County - By Ellie Mallon
Bayou La Batre, Coden and Theodore were our main focus due to the impact of storm surge and heavy rainfall throughout the area.
Impacts from Storm Surge - In Bayou La Batre, we focused primarily on the effects from the storm surge that was recorded in some areas as nearly six feet above ground level. Many of the seafood processing plants along Shell Belt Road were flooded from storm surge. While out inspecting, we came across a couple of noteworthy issues including a potential oil spill, a release of green dye commonly used to coat shrimping nets, and ongoing sewer overflows. Both issues were reported to the state agency that handles environmental issues, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and we expect they will be handled in the coming days.
Impacts from Heavy Rainfall - From our research, we know that bacteria levels in Portersville Bay have been high this year, particularly after heavy rainfall events. The amount of rainfall that results from a storm like Nate can cause septic tanks to work poorly, sewage to spill from manholes, and wastewater treatment plants to overflow; we wanted to try and see where the highest influx of bacterial contamination in Portersville Bay might be coming from. To begin our investigation, we took a water sample from Bayou La Batre at the Highway 188 Bridge in Bayou La Batre. Our next stop was in Coden to sample from Coden Bayou and finally we took a sample near the mouth of West Fowl River. At all three sites we found levels of bacteria above the EPA threshold of 104 CFU of enterococci/100mL. At Bayou La Batre we found 183 CFU/100 mL, in West Fowl River our testing found 529 CFU/100mL and in Coden Bayou we find 1374 CFU/100mL. These high levels of bacteria show that there is a significant source of fecal contamination in the water. While we can’t say whether the source is from septic or sewer.
Tropical weather can bring destruction to our homes, roadways, and buildings but it does not need to deteriorate our water quality. Having a plan in place for industries operating in storm surge prone locations is key to ensuring all chemicals, dyes, and materials are contained and do not leave the site. We need to promote disaster plans that protect our local waterways from spills that we uncovered on our patrol.