Over the weekend, a lift station near U.S. Highway 98 spilled a reported 266,250 gallons of sewage into Fly Creek. According to Fairhope Public Utilities, the cause of the spill was a blown fuse in the controller box that caused the pump to shut down while simultaneously knocking out communications and the backup alarm at the lift station. The cause of Friday’s failure is unknown but Fairhope Utilities have said they are now investigating all their lift stations and retrofitting any that have a similar fuse type setup.
After being notified of the spill, Mobile Baykeeper program director, Cade Kistler, tested for bacteria associated with raw sewage at four sites on Fly Creek. The results of this testing can be found in the map below. Test results ranged from 110 MPN of Enterococci/100 ml to 792. This is more than 7X the EPA threshold for swimming of 104. At the EPA threshold approximately 3.6% of swimmers will contract a gastrointestinal illness. Alarmingly, while on the creek we talked to several citizens who were still unaware of the spill.
While we understand that this failure was caused by a series of unfortunate events, it is Mobile Baykeeper's firm belief that utilities must continually review their systems, determine where deficiencies exist, invest in their systems, and when a spill occurs, ensure that immediate and widespread notification takes place.
Following the discovery of the spill at approximately 10:00 AM on Monday morning, Fairhope Utilities personnel responded and were able to get power restored and the spill stopped within a half hour. Unfortunately, the first public notifications did not occur until 3:34 PM when Fairhope made a post to their Facebook page and then at 4:52 PM when Mobile Baykeeper and local media outlets received a press release from the Baldwin County Health department. This means that families who enjoy swimming, fishing, and boating on Fly Creek may have been unaware for nearly three days that raw sewage was spilling into the waterway, and for more than five and a half hours after the spill was discovered. Fairhope personnel have expressed their interest in improving their notification procedures. Potential solutions include: utilizing a text alert system, more cautionary signage near spills, and more responsive posts and notices when spills are discovered.
Mobile Baykeeper is working diligently to see that utilities invest in their systems, notify the public immediately after spills, and are held accountable when they do not protect the health of our communities and our environment. We encourage active community involvement and are always available to take citizens’ concerns when you see an issue effecting our nearby waterways.
We will continue working with the community and utilities to eliminate sewer spills in Mobile and Baldwin Counties. We will also continue to update you on where sewer spills are occurring so you can protect the health of your families and quality of life for us on the Gulf Coast. Stay tuned to our social media for updates on water quality and sewer spills, make sure to sign up for our email alerts so that you receive all the latest updates on our work, and become a member today for the best possible tomorrow.