Mobile Baykeeper Submits Comments on Bayou La Batre Sewage Permit

Mobile Baykeeper Submits Comments on Bayou La Batre Sewage Permit

We recently submitted comments to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) regarding the reissuance of the Bayou La Batre wastewater treatment facility (WWTF) permit.

Why This Is Important

Oysters being harvested in Portersville Bay. Photo by Fernando Decillis

Oysters being harvested in Portersville Bay. Photo by Fernando Decillis

The Bayou La Batre sewage plant is located upstream of two shallow bays -  Portersville Bay and Grand Bay in the Mississippi Sound. Both waterways are home to many species of fish, shrimp, oysters, and other marine life. The bays are also extremely important for oyster harvesting. In 2016, Alabama’s oyster farms generated more than $1.9 million in economic activity. The majority of the oyster harvesting in Alabama takes place in Portersville Bay, the same waterway where Bayou La Batre discharges its treated sewage. The existing permit does not protect this fragile environment and oyster harvesting industry. Since Bayou La Batre's permit is in the process of being reissued, ADEM has the perfect opportunity to ensure the protection of our health, our seafood, our waterways, and our way of life!

What We Want to Accomplish

To accomplish this, we provided comments, which are summarized below:

● ADEM should wait on issuing this permit - We want ADEM to wait on issuing this permit. There are currently several important studies being conducted regarding the Bayou La Batre sewage plant. Waiting to issue this permit will ensure it is supported by several state and federal agencies who are engaged in this issue. It is important to use the best available science so we can make the most informed decisions and get this right!

Mixing Zones are not appropriate in shallow Bays - In this case, contrary to the common saying, dilution is not the solution to pollution. This permit makes inappropriate use of mixing zones, areas where facilities are legally allowed to dump treated sewage, eventually diluting the pollution. Portersville Bay and Grand Bay are very shallow bays and are popular spots for swimming, fishing, and oyster harvesting. The whole process of creating mixing zones requires regulators at ADEM to accurately predict the ability of these shallow bays to absorb pollutants without being harmed. This is extremely difficult to accomplish in complex, tidally influenced, shallow bays with ever changing weather. Allowing the pollutants from a sewage plant to mix in these waters in order to eventually potentially meet standards for swimming and oyster harvesting is not acceptable. Click here to learn more about mixing zones

The box labeled "13" shows the small area with lower water quality standards than the rest of Portersville Bay.

  • The Permit should protect swimming and oyster harvesting in Portersville and Grand Bays - currently the discharge from the Bayou La Batre sewage plant is in a small segment established solely to accommodate pollution discharged from the plant. However, there is no magic barrier that keeps pollution inside this small area. The pollutants discharged in this area flow into and cause issues in the rest of the Bay.

  • Flow is not adequately addressed in the draft permit - Increased freshwater flows from this facility cause temporary closures to oyster harvesting areas. Some areas are shut down when the flow from the plant exceeds two million gallons per day, threatening Alabama’s growing oyster farming industry. The utility has the ability to control the flow rate they receive from other industrial users, and it is their responsibility to control the amount they discharge. The permit must require the plant to take steps to control the amount of flow they discharge.
  • Arsenic Concerns - Arsenic is a toxic chemical known to cause multiple forms of cancer and extensive damage to the nervous system. We want ADEM to ensure it is not entering our environment through the land application of biosolids (sludge material from the sewage plant that is applied to farms). ADEM should require this facility to find and mitigate the cause of arsenic and lower its permit limits for Arsenic.

  • We request a public hearing  - Given the amount of interest expressed from community members on this issue, public involvement is essential. This decision impacts the health of our waterways, our economy, and our way of life. A public hearing will provide opportunity for everyone to voice their concerns and for ADEM to address all relevant concerns fully. This will ensure that the reissued permit is fully protective of water quality, oyster harvesting, and public health. We will let you know more details if a public hearing is granted.

The Bayou La Batre sewage plant seen from the air. 

Big Picture

There have been significant problems that have plagued oyster harvesting in Portersville Bay for years and water quality remains a major issue in the area. ADEM now has the opportunity to solve many of the problems facing Portersville Bay and its water quality issues affecting oyster harvesting. This can only take place if ADEM works with other agencies, local businesses – especially the seafood industry and aquaculture – and local citizens and includes all relevant studies and data in the permitting process.

Click here to read our full comment letter or see below. For more information, please contact Program & Grants Coordinator Laura Jackson at or call 251-433-4229. 

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