By the time many of will read this article, we will have completed the 15th LMRA Renew Our Rivers Annual Lake Martin Cleanup. Alabama Power Company actually started the ROR program in 2000, but Lake Martin Resource Association assumed responsibility for coordinating the effort on Lake Martin at a later date.
Lake Martin has always been known for its clean, clear water, and the lake has earned the distinction as Alabama’s only Treasured Lake based on water quality standards established by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. This highly desirable water standard is separate from the annual ROR cleanup, and the Treasured Lake designation leaves no indication of the amount of trash that has littered this otherwise beautiful shoreline.
In other words, some undeveloped areas, including many islands, have been heavily trashed through the years. In fact, until LMRA began managing the annual ROR event, there was no organized effort to locate and remove trash from every foot of the entire shoreline of Lake Martin.
There is a common belief that litter begets litter, and that has certainly been true around Lake Martin. In some undeveloped areas that have been heavily used by day visitors and overnight campers, trash dumps have been discovered and removed. Burned out grills, broken bottles, empty propane containers, plastic bottles, beer cans and, of course, disposable diapers have been removed from many locations. In some cases, this has been done more than once.
As the years have passed, our cleanup efforts have focused on areas connected to the main river run, which experiences heavy runoff during the springtime or any time we have significant rainfall. Some who have witnessed this describe it as an “island of debris and trash so thick you could walk on it.” When this “island” moves downriver, it starts to break up as the winds begin to push it into the many sloughs that make up the shoreline.
Much of the trash that has made this journey and been covered over by various pieces of limbs, logs and other bits of debris has been building through the years. Some of it has come from careless boaters and uncaring campers, but most of it comes from our roadsides through the watershed.
Those same heavy rains that move trees and limbs from the shoreline pick up the roadside litter and move it into the gutters and the ditches leading straight to Lake Martin. We see it all the time on Elkahatchee Creek, Sturdivant Creek and the main run of the river below the U.S. Highway 280 bridge.
Over these 15 years, more than 120 tons of trash has been removed from our Treasured Lake. We have made great progress with the LMRA Treasured Mile program, and trash is being removed before it becomes an unsightly mess.
Our next big challenge is to control roadside trash. We must find a solution to the litter problem we have in the Lake Martin community. Not only is it ugly as you drive down the highway, but it may find its way to your favorite fishing spot.
John Thompson is president of Lake Martin Resource Association. Learn more at lmra.info.