Alabama Sewage Permits Become More Protective of Citizens
Waterkeepers Successful in Push for Better Bacteria Regulations
Sewage plants in Alabama will now have to meet tighter limits for E. coli bacteria in order to make it safer to swim and fish in creeks across the state. Several nonprofit water advocacy organizations successfully compelled the state’s government to improve the rules.
The new regulations mark two significant changes:
1) Lower E. Coli Levels Allowed
The maximum concentration of E. coli that is allowed to be discharged from sewage plants at any given time during the "swimming season" was decreased by nearly 40% (487 CFU/100mL to 298 CFU/100mL).
2) Longer Defined Summer Season
Thanks to the efforts of the eight Alabama Waterkeepers and other water advocacy groups throughout the state, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) increased the length of the legally defined summer recreation season to include May and October, which were previously considered part of the winter season. Sewage plants are allowed to discharge higher levels of bacteria during the winter season so this change means the new lower E. coli limits apply for a longer portion of the year.
Why This Is Important
High levels of E. coli bacteria often indicate sewage spills, failing septic systems, or polluted stormwater. The bacteria they are associated with can cause a host of illnesses in humans. Lowering the amount of E. coli that is allowed to be discharge will help make our waterways less polluted.
Additionally, because of Alabama's long warm summers, May and October are very popular months for swimming and fishing. This makes it vital we ensure the safety of our citizens during these months the same way we do during peak summer season. We commend ADEM for enacting these protections.
How This Was Accomplished
Mobile Baykeeper and other Waterkeeper organizations in the state carefully review the actions of our government agencies to ensure they are doing everything required of them to protect your health and the environment. When we found that ADEM was in the process of renewing seven sewage plant permits, we joined seven other Waterkeepers and sent them a letter pointing out that those permits were not using the new stricter limits that were going into effect. ADEM corrected all seven of the permits
Who Was Involved
Coosa Riverkeeper submitted the letter on behalf of all the Waterkeeper Alliance organizations in Alabama: Black Warrior Riverkeeper, Cahaba Riverkeeper, Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Coosa Riverkeeper, Hurricane Creekkeeper, Little River Waterkeeper, Mobile Baykeeper, and Tennessee Riverkeeper.
Going forward, all sewage plant permits in Alabama will use the new stricter limits. This is an important victory for Waterkeepers seeking to ensure the state’s waters are clean and safe for use by all citizens.
In Case You Missed It
Strengthening bacteria regulations is one part of a broader effort by the Waterkeepers to protect and inform Alabamians who swim, fish, and boat on the state’s waterways. The same Waterkeepers who filed the January letter collaborated with the Alabama Rivers Alliance to file a petition for rulemaking with the Environmental Management Commission in March. To protect public health and downstream recreation, the petition sought to improve the minimum requirements imposed on sewage treatment facilities for public notification of sewage spills.
Although the Commission denied the petition, they agreed to work toward its goals. In May, ADEM launched an opt-in email sewage spill notification system which the Waterkeepers and Alabama Rivers Alliance requested. The water advocacy groups have relayed their appreciation for this progress while continuing to promote their petition’s additional suggestions for protecting Alabama citizens from sewage overflows.
To learn more about our work on sewer, please visit mobilebaykeeper.org/sewer.