More than 70 members and guests attended the Lake Watch of Lake Martin annual meeting on Feb. 23, 2020, at the StillWaters Residential Association Building. Alabama Department of Environmental Management Director Lance LeFleur and the head of the Office of Field Services, Richard Hulcher, spoke to the group about the state of the environment in Alabama, emphasizing the trends over the last several years and painting a largely positive picture in three major categories.
LeFleur reported that Alabama now meets all seven national standards for air quality. Though some areas occasionally exceed certain standards, the annual readings show Alabama’s air pollution is well controlled.
Unauthorized or inadequate solid waste landfills have been a serious problem, but over the past 30 years, ADEM has supervised the safe closing of 141 inferior landfills, replacing them with 32 state-of-the-art triple-lined landfills. Part of this improvement is tied to the state’s solid waste reduction; that is, recycling and other measures.
Since 1989, Alabama has seen an increase in the waste reduction rate from 5 percent to 25 percent. LeFleur mentioned that ADEM has a grant program to help municipalities establish recycling programs.
Scrap tire dumps remain a concern. Scrap tires hold water and produce breeding grounds for mosquitoes, rats and other pests. Since 2006, ADEM has overseen cleanup of 341 illegal scrap tire dumps involving 9.9 million tires.
ADEM now monitors 89 contaminants, up from 23 in 1982. In 2018, 98 percent of Alabama’s public drinking water systems met standards.
Lake Watch’s primary focus is surface water quality, and LeFleur reported an upward trend in this area as well. A key component of the nation’s control of water pollution is Section 303(d) of the federal Clean Water Act, which requires states to evaluate water quality data and develop a list of waters that are considered impaired. Alabama had 11,913 miles of rivers and streams listed as impaired in 1998. By 2018, this number was 3,276. While we applaud this improvement, it must be recognized that some waters in the Tallapoosa River Basin, remain below standards.
Hulcher said ADEM classifies chicken houses and other such animal farming production as Animal Feeding Operations AFOs or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, depending on the number of animals involved.
There are 975 active CAFOs in Alabama, 131 of which are located in the Tallapoosa River Basin. Although only CAFOs are required to register and obtain permits, both types of operations must comply with ADEM regulations to control polluted runoff from their sites. A facility must maintain a vegetated buffer zone of at least 200 feet from the river and 100 feet from a tributary stream. A properly operated chicken house has zero pollution runoff. Chicken litter is a valuable commodity, so it is typically sold and hauled off, rather than accumulating on site. Lake Watch tests key areas in the watershed to monitor for bacteria and nutrients from poultry CAFOs.
Both speakers encouraged citizen participation and communication in helping to prevent pollution. LeFleur said ADEM actually likes to receive complaints,as it helps them narrow down problem areas and monitor compliance. A huge amount of data and the complaint portal, can be found at www.adem.state.al.us.
In other business, Lake Watch presented two annual awards. The Woodfin Martin Award went to Zelma and Raymond DePasquale, who were recognized for their many years of support for a clean Lake Martin through efforts in conducting environmental education at Radney Elementary and Living Streams programs at Camp ASCCA and in Birmingham; their longtime water monitoring efforts; and service as board member and officer for Lake Watch.
The Bronson Environmental Stewardship Award was presented to Bruce Adams, superintendent at Wind Creek State Park, for his support of environmental preservation and Lake Watch’s efforts, including his recent help in establishing Lake Watch’s informational kiosk at the park.
As a final note, one of the categories of waters that are designated by ADEM for special protection due to its high quality is that of Treasured Alabama Lake. Lake Martin was designated a Treasured Alabama Lake in 2011 and is still the only lake so named. Because of this designation, no new point sources of pollution (e.g. municipal sewage or industrial discharges) can be introduced into the lake, and there are strict limits on allowable levels of phosphorus and E. coli bacteria.
Several Lake Watch members have been trained as water monitors and conduct periodic water sampling at sites on the lake and surrounding areas. Our extensive water quality monitoring program has established a baseline of trend data to help address future threats to the lake. Alabama Water Watch, based at Auburn University, offers free training courses, and a couple of Lake Watch members are also certified trainers. Water monitors are always needed. Right now, monitors are especially needed on the west side of the lake. Please consider joining and getting trained as a monitor.
Lake Watch encourages everyone who loves Lake Martin to join our efforts to protect our Treasured Lake. Annual membership is as little as $15 ($10 for students). Visit the website address below to sign on.
Bill Butler is a board member and water monitor with Lake Watch of Lake Martin. Visit www.lakewatch.org.