Rain Barrel Program Teaches Coastal Residents How to Reduce Stormwater Impacts

Alabama Current Connection Newsletter, Summer 2017 Vol. XI, Issue1 
By Christian Miller, Watershed Management Coordinator, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program

Coastal Alabama receives more than five feet of rain per year. In urban areas, most of this water washes across hard, or impervious, surfaces, picking up and carrying pollutants into our waterways. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers stormwater runoff to be the greatest threat to water quality in the United States. As more people continue to move to coastal areas, impervious surfaces and, therefore, volume and velocities of stormwater runoff continue to increase.

Rainwater harvesting, the practice of collecting and storing stormwater runoff from roofs and other hard surfaces for future use, is one practical way to reduce impacts associated with residential stormwater runoff. An inch of rain falling on a typical 1,000-square-foot roof yields over 600 gallons of water. Installing a rain barrel at your home is an inexpensive way to capture and store some of this water for later use. With a rain barrel, you'll not only help reduce stormwater runoff, but you'll also have a supply of free, non-chlorinated, soft water for washing your car, watering plants, and many other household uses.

Although rain barrels can be purchased through many retail outlets, they are generally expensive and don’t offer much in the way of education for the consumer.  Through an ongoing series of workshops, residents of Mobile and Baldwin counties have been learning how to construct and set up low-cost rain catchment systems at their home, along with other ways to conserve water and protect water quality along the coast. These workshops are continuously scheduled throughout the year, in coordination with partners in both coastal Alabama counties, and last approximately two hours.

The success of the program has been due in large part to the partnerships that have been formed. Local municipalities, including the cities of Daphne, Fairhope, Foley, and Mobile and the Town of Dauphin Island have all hosted rain barrel workshops. “These workshops have been a great help to us on the local level,” said Ashley Campbell, Environmental Programs Manager with the City of Daphne, “They provide an opportunity to inform the public of the issues we are facing related to stormwater management on the coast.”

The Prichard Drainage Study, funded by the MBNEP for Mobile County, and hydrologic modeling by Latif Kalin and Enis Baltaci at Auburn University’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences analyzed conditions in the Toulmins Spring Branch Watershed, a subwatershed of the greater Three Mile Creek Watershed, and examined impacts of stormwater runoff in the Bessemer community of Prichard. These studies recommend the installation of Low Impact Development features, including strategically located rain barrels, as a means of alleviating chronic urban flooding in the area. Follow-up outreach in the community also indicated a strong willingness to receive and use rain barrels at home. Currently, plans are underway to work with partners and homeowners on a pilot project to install approximately 30 rain barrels at homes and local residences around Toulmins Spring Branch. If successful, this project could be expanded throughout the community to significantly reduce the impacts of localized flooding throughout the subwatershed.

Posted on 03/19/18 at 02:35 PM Permalink

Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring in Mobile and Baldwin Counties

Whether you catch fish for fun or for a living, swim for exercise or for leisure, kayak or powerboat, or just like to gaze at its beauty, as a community, coastal Alabama is intimately intertwined with its water resources. We depend on healthy water resources to sustain our environment, economy, and quality of life. Understanding the health of Mobile Bay’s estuarine waters is paramount to ensure the experiences and opportunities afforded to you remain intact and accessible for the next generation. One of the best ways to determine the condition of a waterbody is to conduct regular monitoring. However, when you consider the numerous waterways in coastal Alabama, along with budget constraints and other limitations placed on professionals and government agencies, routinely monitoring every river and stream seems daunting at best. The good news, however, is a productive and cost efficient way to collect comprehensive water quality data already exists, all it needs is you. In watersheds around Mobile Bay, citizens from all walks of life volunteer to become certified Alabama Water Watch (AWW) monitors and test sites monthly.

Alabama is fortunate to have AWW. Since 1992, AWW has worked to educate, train, and empower people statewide to monitor water quality. To date, they have more than 82,000 data records from 2,300 sites throughout Alabama. Their protocols are approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and include a robust Quality Assurance Plan. Trained AWW water quality monitors are able to test for basic water chemistry and/or for bacteria depending on their certification. Alabama Water Watch training is always free! Water chemistry training takes about six hours and bacteria training about two hours.

Two longstanding watershed groups, Dog River Clearwater Revival in Mobile County and Wolf Bay Watershed Watch in Baldwin County, are a wonderful example of how volunteer water quality monitors can make a difference in their communities. Collectively, these two groups have monitored more than 100 different sites over the past twenty years. Both groups not only monitor, but they use their data to advocate for their respective watersheds. Wolf Bay’s volunteer monitoring data was instrumental in having the watershed declared an Outstanding Alabama Water in 2007 (Alabama’s highest designation). Dog River uses volunteer data to document water quality impacts from urban runoff and sewage overflows. Other watersheds with active citizen monitoring efforts include Weeks Bay, D’Olive, Little Lagoon, and recently established Fowl River.

Currently, water quality monitors are needed as part of the comprehensive watershed planning for 31 priority watersheds in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Driven by science, these plans will guide future restoration and management decisions for decades to come. Citizen science has an important role in watershed planning. Each plan calls for water quality monitoring to track the success or failure of implemented planning strategies, or to determine where additional focus is needed. The importance of volunteer monitoring and the benefit of your involvement cannot be overstated. If you or someone you know is interested in a fun and meaningful science-based volunteer activity, consider becoming a local water quality monitor. You do not have to live on the water to participate. What it boils down to is we need you. The success of any volunteer water quality monitoring program is dependent on the volunteers who will offer their time to better our collective understanding of water quality.

To learn more about how you can become an AWW volunteer or to register for a workshop, visit www.alabamawaterwatch.org. If you or a group is interested in volunteering as a water quality monitor for the comprehensive watershed plans, contact MBNEP.

Posted on 01/20/17 at 09:13 AM Permalink

Homer Singleton, AWW trainer & monitor extraordinaire!

Article published by Alabama Water Watch
Click here to view

Homer Singleton attended his first AWW workshop in Elberta, Alabama in the Wolf Bay Watershed in 2003.  In October 2007, with four years of monitoring under his belt, Homer got certified as both a water chemistry and bacteriological monitoring trainer.  Since that time he has conducted or helped conduct 74 workshops, 22 recertification sessions, and has issued more than 371 certifications to over 186 volunteer monitors –  WOW- what an impact!. In recognition of his outstanding service as an AWW trainer, Alabama Water Watch was honored to present Homer with the 2013 Trainer of the Year Award.

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Posted on 11/09/16 at 08:28 AM Permalink

Christian Miller, AWW trainer & supporter extraordinaire!

An Alabama Water Watch News Article

Christian Miller has been working in extension/outreach activities since 2004, first in Florida, and then in south Alabama. Christian joined the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium outreach team as an extension specialist in 2009. He works out of the Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center in Mobile, Alabama, and his work focuses on nonpoint source pollution. He serves as the Alabama- Mississippi Clean Marina Program coordinator and the Coastal Alabama Clean Water Partnership facilitator. Along with all of this great work, he found time to become an AWW trainer too! Since becoming certified as an AWW trainer in 2014, Christian has coordinated numerous trainings along Alabama’s beautiful Gulf Coast.

Dixie Bar Redfish

Let’s get to know Christian a bit better:

1. Where do you call home?

I live in Mobile, AL. I work as an Extension Specialist with the Auburn University Marine Extension & Research Center in partnership with Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, and the Alabama Clean Water Partnership. I’ve lived in lots of places, but I’ve always been drawn to the Gulf Coast, and the Mobile area in particular. Our proximity to the water and all of the unique cultural experiences and natural resources we have at our fingertips make this a great place to call home.

2. What stream, river, lake, bay, bayou is your favorite water-spot?

Alabama is blessed with so many unique waterways it’s impossible to name just one. I’ve had the opportunity to fish/boat/wade a lot of our coastal streams, rivers, bays, and bayous. The Tensaw River Delta is a pretty special place. I’ve also greatly enjoyed time spent on the waters of Three Mile Creek, Halls Mill Creek, Bayou Sara, Fowl River, Wolf Bay, Little Lagoon, and Mobile Bay. Also, growing up in Talladega, I’ve got a lot of special memories of times spent on waterways in northern reaches of the State including: Little River Canyon, Lake Logan Martin, and many of the unnamed tribs that snake through the Talladega National Forest. If left with just one, I’d have to go with my favorite fishing spots which lie along Dixey Bar on the Gulf-fronting side of Fort Morgan at the mouth of Mobile Bay.

Mobile-Tensaw River Delta

3. What water recreation/sports do you enjoy most?

Fishing, Kayaking, boating, pretty much anything that involves being out on the water. Some of my earliest memories are fishing with my grandfather on the Peace River in southwest Florida. Those earliest memories of time spent on the water are what pushed me into the sciences, and more specifically natural resource management, as a career.

Bayou La Batre

4. What got you interested in Alabama Water Watch?

My introduction to Alabama Water Watch came during my undergraduate Ecology course at Jacksonville State University. My professor, Dr. Frank Romano, trained all his students in the water chemistry and benthic macroinvertebrate methods in several tribs to Tallasseehatche Creek that flow through the Jacksonville area. Currently, in coastal Alabama we’ve been working with local watershed groups, including the Wolf Bay Watershed Watch and Dog River Clear Water Revival, to boost the numbers of active volunteer water quality monitors across both Mobile and Baldwin counties. As we continue to develop and implement watershed management plans, it is critical to engage local citizens in efforts to monitor the success of coastal restoration efforts through programs like AWW.

AWW water chemistry training at Bayfront Park on Mobile Bay in Daphne, AL

5. What are your biggest challenges/issues in your favorite watershed?

I live in the Dog River Watershed which drains over 50,000 acres, much of which are urbanized areas of the City of Mobile. As you would expect, most of Dog River and its tributaries are experiencing issues associated with excess stormwater runoff. There are multiple segments throughout the Watershed impaired for low dissolved oxygen, pathogenic bacteria, and sedimentation. Litter is also a major issue, and impacts all of our coastal waterways. A host of local partners are united in efforts to raise awareness of stormwater pollution through the Create a Clean Water Future campaign (http://www.cleanwaterfuture.com).

Tensaw River looking toward downtown Mobile

6. Do you have some ‘lessons learned’ that you could pass on to the rest of us relative to watershed stewardship?

Stay engaged and involved. We have been using citizen water quality monitoring as a means to engage coastal stakeholders in implementing actions to improve water quality and natural resources through our watershed plans. Citizens like to know that what they are doing, through collecting and reporting water quality data, is making a difference.

Christian having a good day on Lake Logan Martin

Posted on 09/23/16 at 10:38 AM Permalink

Alabama Coastal Comprehensive Plan (ACCP): A Guide for Resiliency

By Eliska Morgan, Coastal Restoration Coordinator, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resoruces

     As reported in a previous issue of Coastal Connection, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Mobile District (USACE), the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, and the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) to develop a constituent-informed, science-based coastal comprehensive plan to strengthen the economic, environmental, and social resilience of coastal Alabama for current and future generations. 

     By maximizing the use of resources in support of this comprehensive planning effort, the ACCP will create a roadmap for local, state and federal officials as they seek to:

  • reduce the susceptibility of residential, commercial and public infrastructure to storm damages, climate change, and sea level rise;
  • improve habitats for freshwater, coastal, and marine resources to support commercial and recreational harvest;
  • assist in the restoration of natural and human-made features damaged by erosion or unwise land use or development decisions;
  • promote long-term erosion reduction during future natural hazards; and
  • promote diversification of economies within the two coastal counties as a means of economic resilience from future hazards.

     As part of the initial development of the ACCP, nineteen visioning sessions were conducted last year – seventeen with targeted focus groups and two with a broader public audience.  Using input received in the visioning sessions, a survey is being developed by the MBNEP to further identify and classify priority issues.  When given the opportunity, we hope you will take the time to participate in the MBNEP survey this summer, as this process will generate valuable information for the USACE to develop vulnerability and adaptability assessments. 

     It is not too late to share your coastal vision on the ACCP website at accp.usace.army.mil.  You may also go here to get the latest update on the ACCP as well as to view comments received thus far on an interactive map. 

Posted on 07/18/16 at 01:11 PM Permalink

Press Release: Fowl River Restoration & Dredging Project Set for Later This Month

(Download PDF)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Fowl River Restoration & Dredging Project Set for Later This Month

Mobile Bay National Estuary Program  
Contact: Rick Frederick (251) 380-7941
Email: rfrederick@mobilebaynep
Website: www.mobilebaynep.com         

The restoration of the erosion-impacted and storm-vulnerable northern tip of Mon Louis Island is set to get underway following a June 8 pre-construction meeting. What was proposed and funded through a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund in late 2013 as an emergency project and a race to complete before a catastrophic tropical weather event has finally been permitted and contracted. Mon Louis Island Tip Orion Marine Construction has been hired to implement this project, designed by Thompson Engineering with assistance from the Mobile Bay NEP and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Operations Division. The project will include the construction of a continuous rock breakwater along the footprint of the historic 1997 shoreline, subsequent hydraulic dredging to borrow material from the Fowl River Open Water Disposal Area (FROWDA) to create four acres of salt marsh behind the breakwater, and maintenance dredging of the shallow and neglected Fowl River navigation channel to replace the borrowed material.

Project implementation was delayed by design challenges and permitting. The original intention was to borrow material directly from the navigation channel, but its sediments were silty and of insufficient quality for marsh creation. After considering upland and upstream sources of suitable material, core samples obtained from the FROWDA in early 2015 were revealed to be sandy enough for marsh creation. State Senator Bill Hightower secured State Deepwater Horizon Impact Funds to undertake maintenance dredging to restore channel navigability and provide a source of material to replace what was borrowed and restore water quality conditions along the Bay bottom. Combining the two dredging efforts provides cost efficiencies, improved access for recreational boaters, and ensures no negative impacts to water quality on the bottom.

Mon Louis Island Tip Restoration PlanA Corps permit was finally issued in March, 2016, allowing the project to go to forward. Orion’s bid was low enough to include maintenance dredging to an 11-foot depth, three feet deeper than standard Corps protocols. This will ensure a longer period of navigability through this inlet during challenging economic times when maintenance dredging cannot be expected. After Orion completes the described scope of work before the end of 2016, the created wetland area will be left to consolidate and settle for six months before it’s graded and planted. The project will double the area currently providing nursery and refuge habitat for fish, shellfish, and wildlife.

Posted on 06/10/16 at 03:20 PM Permalink

Microplastics: The Tiny, Yet Massive Threat, to Our World’s Oceans

By Caitlin Wessel, PhD Student, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, University of South Alabama

     Every summer millions of visitors from across the USA flock to the white sand beaches of coastal Alabama, ready to enjoy a little rest and relaxation. Unfortunately, unless you are visiting a beach that gets cleaned every morning, more often than not you will also see litter. Human-made litter can be found throughout the world’s oceans and seas, even in remote areas far from human contact, and is commonly referred to as marine debris. What you may or may not notice in the sand are tiny, colorful pieces of plastic, called microplastics, which have washed ashore with the tide. In the northern Gulf of Mexico, microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5mm) result mainly from the breakdown, by sunlight and waves, of larger plastic trash floating in the oceans but can also come from products containing microbeads, like toothpaste and face wash. Scientists from the University of Georgia estimated that 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic trash made its way into the ocean in just one year (2010), and current estimates indicate that 92% of the plastic floating in the world’s oceans are microplastics.

     Microplastics have become a prominent pollution issue, not only in Alabama, but also throughout the world. They are small enough to be easily ingested by aquatic animals, particularly in marine and coastal environments where they float on the ocean surface.  Microplastics floating in the water column can be accidentally ingested by filter-feeders and then work their way up the food chain. Our plastic can affect everything from filter-feeding oysters and mussels to shorebirds, crabs, fish, sea turtles and even dolphins and whales!

     Plastics also contain concentrated toxins from their manufacturing and also from absorbing toxins found in the water column. These toxins can then be released from the plastics as they work their way through the digestive tract and end up in organ and muscle tissue. So do you need to worry about microplastics in your food? Maybe, but so far research has shown ingested microplastics accumulate mainly in the guts of organisms, although some pieces are small enough to enter the blood stream. Unfortunately, little research has been conducted about how much plastic we may be ingesting from our food and there is no information on how microplastics could be affecting humans.

     Researchers at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and the University of South Alabama are currently working on several projects with the Center for Environmental Resiliency and NOAA to determine how marine debris, big and small, is affecting Alabama and the northern Gulf of Mexico. Our data show that the amount of marine debris accumulating on beaches DOUBLES between April and May. We aren’t sure yet what is responsible, but it is likely related to the increase in tourism and fishing during that time of year. Daily monitoring of shoreline trash on Dauphin Island suggests that beach supplies (chairs, tents, sand toys, etc.) left out overnight by beachgoers frequently end up washed out to sea by storms and high tide. Once exposed to constant sunlight and wave action these large plastic items quickly begin to break down into smaller pieces and eventually become microplastics. So far everywhere we have looked for microplastics in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi we have found them. All of us are responsible for the problem of marine debris, and it will take all of us to be the solution. 

So what can you do?

  • For starters recycle, but that in itself is not a solution to the problem since only about 5% of plastic is recoverable to make new products.
  • We need to decrease the usage of single-use plastic items like grocery or sandwich bags and start using reusable bags and containers.
  • Stop buying products that contain plastic microbeads. Read the label and look for words like microbeads, polyethylene, or polypropylene.
  • Say NO to printed receipts. Over 250 million gallons of oil, 10 million trees and 1 billion gallons of water are consumed each year just for receipts printed in the USA, generating 1.5 billion pounds of waste.
  •  Use outdoor trash bins with lids- 19 percent of litter results from trash blowing out of waste bins or the backs of pickup trucks.
  • Buy a reusable mug or container for coffee and other drinks. Many places will even give you a discount for bringing your own cup.
  • Drink filtered or tap water out of reusable containers instead of buying bottled water. Beverage bottles are the fourth most common litter item found in Alabama.
  • All of us are responsible for the problem of marine debris, and it will take all of us to be the solution.  
Posted on 05/11/16 at 11:27 AM Permalink