Southern Hospitality Can Host Great Partnerships for Water
By Nancy Stoner
I recently visited Three Mile Creek in Mobile, Alabama to see projects involving EPA’s Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. Like all of our NEPs, Mobile Bay focuses on partnership with state and local officials, utilities, universities, environmental groups, and many others. This was apparent when our boat trip up Three Mile Creek was overbooked with local partners eager to participate.
Three Mile Creek used to be the drinking water source for many Mobile residents, but is now severely polluted from a wastewater treatment plant and stormwater. The result is muddy water and lots of trash. But restoration prospects are bright. First, the land along the waterway is undeveloped and much is owned by the city or by a church, and is managed in its natural condition as a floodplain. The sewage treatment plant is moving its discharge to a larger waterway, eliminating the largest single source of pollution. And the Alabama Department of Environmental Management is keeping the City of Mobile moving forward to reduce stormwater that carries trash from streets, parking lots, and other public areas into the waterway.
The talk on the trip was about making improvements and getting more people out to enjoy this potentially lovely amenity for residents, including those in underserved neighborhoods who are close enough to walk to the creek to fish or boat – and maybe eventually to swim.
Our second stop was at Joe’s Branch, the site of an innovative stormwater management project, paid for in part by EPA Section 319 funds, which will address one of the most severe cases of streambank erosion many of us had ever seen. The design incorporates a state-of-the-art approach – a series of step pools to slow down the flows, let the pollutants settle out and infiltrate water into the ground. It will be the first of its kind in Alabama and engineers evaluated prototypes from across the country to devise this design.
This project is another example of the economic benefits of environmental protection. Nearby retirement homes previously had beautiful views. But now there is a 40 foot-wide chasm that fell dozens of huge trees and washed tons of sediment to Mobile Bay. As a result, many apartments went unoccupied – in 2011 the retirement community had 100 months of unoccupied homes, costing over $300,000 in revenue.
Whether in urban Mobile or in the rural area across the Bay, partnership is making improvements possible.
About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water
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