Birmingham News (Alabama)
BYLINE: Ben Raines email@example.com
MOBILE – A torrent of trash flooded into Dog River during Saturday’s rainstorm, flowing in from Eslava, Bolton and other creeks that drain much of Mobile.
A video shot by local kayaker Rob Nykvist as the rain began falling starts with an image of a few pieces of trash floating in from the mouth of a small creek. Soon, that creek is contributing a steady stream of trash, with dozens of pieces drifting into the river every minute.
Other, larger creeks are shown, each carrying a load of garbage downstream. Before long, the camera shows swirling piles of trash blanketing the entire surface of the river.
But according to officials, the city of Mobile is under no legal obligation to do anything about the garbage, even though virtually all of it washed off city streets and dumped out of the city stormwater system.
The city operates the system under a federal Clean Water Act permit. But federal officials allow the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to enforce the Clean Water Act statewide, and it is ADEM that writes stormwater permits for cities.
Federal law requires cities to monitor stormwater to locate pollution within the drainage system. Once problem areas are located, the Clean Water Act directs cities to reduce the pollution including floating garbage to the ”maximum extent practicable.”
But Mobile’s permit, said city public services director John Bell, does not say anything about monitoring ”floatables,” the term used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act to describe floating garbage.
While floatables are listed among water pollutants in the Clean Water Act, Bell said the city’s ADEM permit requires the city to monitor eight locations each year for chemical contaminants in the water. It says nothing about monitoring how much garbage flows into local rivers, Bell said.
ADEM officials were not available Monday to comment on why the language is not in the city’s permit. State offices were closed Monday for Presidents Day.
The agency fined Mobile last month for ignoring the monitoring requirements of its Clean Water Act permit after the city failed to file reports for the last several years.
ADEM wrote in an email to the newspaper that the city is supposed to ”monitor water quality then make changes or adjustments to their resources and efforts to address areas of concern that have been identified through the monitoring data.”
The city already does most of what is required by its permit to keep trash out of the stormwater system, largely through education campaigns, Bell said.
”The permit says to minimize the discharge of pollutants into the storm drain system. Part of our permit is to educate people,” Bell said. ”We go to schools and try to educate people not to put their cigarette butts and hamburger wrappers into the street where they’ll go into the storm drain.”
He said the city has stamped storm drains with signs saying they drain to rivers, published pamphlets and other literature.
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