State Rejects Petition for Better Public Notification of Sewage Spills But Will Conduct Study to Improve Public Notification

For Immediate Release: April 21, 2017
Casi Callaway
Executive Director and Baykeeper
Mobile Baykeeper
(251) 433-4229;

Eva Dillard
Staff Attorney
Black Warrior Riverkeeper
(205) 249-4743;

Water Protection Groups’ Statewide Petition Pushed for Better Process to Warn Public of Dangers

Montgomery, AL— Today, Alabama’s Environmental Management Commission (“EMC”) voted to deny a statewide petition filed by nine water protection groups to initiate rulemaking to require better public notification of sewage spills and overflows. In doing so, the EMC announced plans to study the issue and consider rulemaking at a later date to improve public notification of sewage spills.

“We are disappointed that the EMC did not accept our petition and move immediately to create rules that would secure the public’s right to know when and where sewer spills occur.” Casi Callaway, Executive Director & Baykeeper for Mobile Baykeeper stated. “The fact that they agree better notification is needed is still a win for public health and families. We look forward to working with ADEM and sewage treatment facility operators to develop robust notification procedures that enable our families to make informed decisions about where to swim, fish and play in our area waterways and allow them to protect their health.”

Alabama Rivers Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Coosa Riverkeeper, Friends of Hurricane Creek, Little River Waterkeeper, Mobile Baykeeper, and Tennessee Riverkeeper submitted the petition, which was publicly supported by dozens of other conservation and recreation groups

Recent high profile events, like a major sewage overflow in Northport which put up to 4,000,000 gallons of sewage into the Black Warrior River right before the busy July 4, 2016 weekend, highlighted this pressing problem and prompted the petition. Public concern has grown significantly in recent weeks with widespread media coverage of the petition as well as an interactive map the groups released showing 2016 sewage spills. In only two weeks that online map has been viewed over 32,000 times.

Although wastewater treatment plants are required by Alabama law to “immediately” notify the public of sewage spills, presently there are no regulations which specify a time, plan or even a bare minimum level of notification.

According to Black Warrior Riverkeeper Staff Attorney Eva Dillard, “The objective of the petition was to ensure a uniform, consistent minimum standard of sewage spill notification across the State, to reach the maximum number of people possible. We are disappointed that the EMC did not accept the petition and begin rulemaking immediately, but glad they plan to address this important public health and safety issue. We look forward to working with them and other stakeholders to fix public notification in Alabama. ”

For a copy of the petition, click here.

To see the 2016 interactive sewage spill map to check out where spills occur in your community, click here.

To see a map of sewer spills occurring in Mobile and Baldwin counties, click here.

For a high resolution photograph of a recent sewage spill on Bolton Branch, click here.