Project Implementation Committee: Thursday September 11th from 1:00-4:00 at Five Rivers Delta Center
Executive Committee: Friday September 26th from 10:00-12:00 at Five Rivers Delta Center
Community Action Committee: Friday September 26th from 12:00-1:30 at Five Rivers Delta Center, Lunch will be provided by the Mobile Bay Kayak Fishing Association
Be sure to check our Events Calendar often for updates.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold its second annual SepticSmart Week September 22-26. SepticSmart Week outreach activities encourage homeowners and communities to care for and maintain their septic systems. Nearly one-quarter of all American households depend on septic systems to treat their wastewater.
Failure to maintain septic system can lead to back-ups and overflows that pollute local waterways, create dead zones, raise water treatment costs and endanger human health. Pollutants such as nitrogen, phosphorus and fecal bacteria can enter ground and surface waters from septic systems. Such pollutants affect drinking water, lakes, rivers and estuaries. The algal blooms they may generate can produce toxins harmful to human, animals and marine life.
Data collected by states attribute septic systems and other onsite wastewater treatment methods to water quality impairments in 22,909 miles of rivers and streams; 199,995 acres of lakes, reservoirs and ponds; and 72,320 acres of wetlands. By properly maintaining their septic systems, homeowners can help reduce these numbers.
“When homeowners protect their septic systems, it’s good for their health, their neighbors’ health, and their pocketbooks,” said Ken Kopocis, Deputy Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Water. “Not only is EPA directly educating homeowners on septic maintenance, but we are also coordinating with states and municipalities to do the same.”
During SepticSmart Week, EPA will provide homeowners with tips for septic maintenance, including:
• Protect It and Inspect It:
• Think at the Sink:
• Don’t Overload the Commode:
• Don’t Strain Your Drain:
• Shield Your Field:
EPA’s SepticSmart program educates homeowners about proper septic system care and maintenance all year long. In addition, it serves as an online resource for industry practitioners, local governments and community organizations, providing access to tools to educate clients and residents.
For more information, visit: www.epa.gov/septicsmart
Thank you to the 241 volunteers who helped clean roughly three miles of shoreline on and along Mobile's Western Shore. The day was beautiful for the 27th Annual Alabama Coastal Cleanup where people of all ages gathered at McNally Park off Dauphin Island Parkway. Early estimates show these clean water heroes removed 1,286 pounds of litter from in and around Mobile Bay and nearby Perch Creek, a tributary to Dog River. Thanks again to these 241 volunteers! With you, we will "Create a Clean Water Future" for Mobile!
Acting on the perception that they perform better for longer, most property owners in the United States choose hard engineered structures, such as bulkheads or riprap revetments, to protect estuarine shorelines from erosion. Less intrusive alternatives, specifically marsh plantings with and without sills, have the potential to better sustain marsh habitat and support its ecosystem services, yet their shoreline protection capabilities during storms have not been evaluated. In this study, the performances of alternative shoreline protection approaches during Hurricane Irene (Category 1 storm) were compared by 1) classifying resultant damage to shorelines with different types of shoreline protection in three NC coastal regions after Irene; and 2) quantifying shoreline erosion at marshes with and without sills in one NC region by using repeated measurements of marsh surface elevation and marsh vegetation stem density before and after Irene. In the central Outer Banks, NC, where the strongest sustained winds blew across the longest fetch; Irene damaged 76% of bulkheads surveyed, while no damage to other shoreline protection options was detected. Across marsh sites within 25 km of its landfall, Hurricane Irene had no effect on marsh surface elevations behind sills or long marsh shorelines without sills. Although Irene temporarily reduced marsh vegetation density at sites with and without sills, vegetation recovered to pre-hurricane levels within a year. Storm responses suggest that marshes with and without sills are more durable and may protect shorelines from erosion better than the bulkheads in a Category 1 storm. This study is the first to provide data on the shoreline protection capabilities of marshes with and without sills relative to bulkheads during a substantial storm event, and to articulate a research framework to assist in the development of comprehensive policies for climate change adaptation and sustainable management of estuarine shorelines and resources in U.S. and globally.
In June 2014, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (NEP), Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), and a number of other partners completed the Alabama and Mobile Bay Basin Integrated Assessment of Watershed Health, a statewide and basin-wide report on the status and vulnerability of watershed health. The assessment, supported by EPA’s Healthy Watersheds Program, integrates the best available data from state and federal agencies to characterize relative landscape condition, watershed health, and watershed vulnerability to climate change, land use change, and water use. Recognizing the health of Mobile Bay is governed in part by the health of the waters it drains, the assessment team conducted an analysis of hydrologic connectivity between headwaters within Mobile Bay basin to the estuary itself. The watershed health, vulnerability, and connectivity assessment results are intended to help guide Alabama’s and Mobile Bay NEP’s efforts to protect their healthy watersheds and to enhance the condition of Mobile Bay so that the public can continue to enjoy the many benefits and services their waters provide.
William Rabb, special to E&E
PENSACOLA, Fla. -- While some coastal property owners recoil at the idea of anything marring their view of the water, many are coming to a stark realization: "Living shorelines" -- with native grasses and rock or oyster-reef breakwaters -- may be the only option left for countering rising seas and eroding shoreline.
"It's either do this or lose our property altogether," said John Blackwell of Pensacola, who has seen almost 20 feet of his bayou-front land wash away in just four years.
Living shorelines, once considered a quaint notion espoused by a few environmental groups, are quietly gaining in popularity as the benefits and the science become more accepted. Sea walls, also known as bulkheads, are still widespread, but more and more policymakers and homeowners now agree that hardening the shore is more expensive, is futile against rising tides, can destroy marine habitat and can exacerbate erosion on adjacent properties.
"One argument is that people should just move away from the shore altogether," said Bill Sapp, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "But there doesn't seem to be much political will to force that, so we have to take the steps we can to maintain the shore we have left."
South Alabama and northwest Florida were long considered the spiritual home of the bulkhead, and all the problems that go with that. A recent report by the SELC shows that more than 40 percent of the shoreline around sprawling Mobile Bay, Ala., is armored with sea walls or other structures. At Deadman's Island in Gulf Breeze, Fla., coffins buried after yellow fever epidemics in the 1800s were exposed in the last decade as the shoreline eroded, due in large part to extensive bulkheads built all around the shore, said Heather Reed, project manager for a restoration project there.
But in the last five years, the number of natural shoreline permits has tripled or even quadrupled in Alabama and northwest Florida, according to the Army Corps of Engineers, which must review most coastal construction work.
Living shorelines use marine grasses to hold sand and oyster-shell beds, porous concrete structures or mounds of rock as breakwaters to trip waves before they roar across the waterfront. Such shorelines cost less than sea walls and can adapt to rising water levels, say shoreline-restoration advocates.
As the water rises over time, the grasses trap more sand, building up the shore naturally. Natural shores also provide crucial habitat for marine life, which helps local fishermen, Sapp said.
Some waterfront residents have vehemently opposed living shores, in part because of climate change denial and in part because of the view.
Structured breakwaters, in particular, have been controversial because most rise above the water line. One coastal Alabama town recently rejected a federal grant that would have helped mitigate shoreline erosion, largely because council members thought the breakwaters would be "an eyesore" (see related story).
Getting the hydrology and ecology right for a successful living shoreline can be tricky. The work can take years to prove successful and may require significant revision and maintenance.
"The science is still evolving, but it has gotten a foothold in the last couple of years," said Doug Fry, head of the Submerged Lands and Environmental Resources Coordination Program at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
In some states, permitting for such projects is still a tangled mess of local, state and federal regulations. North Carolina, for example, has banned most hardened structures on ocean-side shorelines. But on inlets and bays, sea walls still get approved in days, while living shorelines can drag on for months, according to the North Carolina Coastal Federation. In Florida, a state agency has bragged about how quickly it approves bulkhead permits, often in less than two weeks, records show.
And in most restoration projects, the Army Corps has to review the work before granting a permit. That process can take as much as 16 weeks for a living shoreline, often because other federal agencies must also scrutinize the project's impact on threatened species and habitat.
On the other hand, the Army Corps will often approve a sea wall quickly, because it technically doesn't affect navigation or involve habitat restoration, said Reed, who's overseeing the Deadman's Island project and runs a shoreline restoration consulting company.
The permitting process is evolving, though, if only in fits and starts.
Starting last fall, Florida no longer requires permits for most projects covering less than 500 linear feet of shore, a big leap from the previous threshold of 150 feet. But the change wasn't widely reported, and almost a year later, restoration groups and property owners said they weren't aware of it. And the state rules still require that the work be kept within 10 feet of the mean high-water line, a restriction that can limit the success of some projects.
"It really needs to be 15 or 20 feet," said Patrice Couch, director of St. Andrew Bay Watch in Panama City, Fla., which last month enlisted 30 volunteers to plant marsh grass and build four living shorelines at the behest of property owners.
In Alabama, the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Mobile Baykeepers, the Nature Conservancy and others worked closely with the Coast Guard, Army Corps and state agencies in 2011 to produce a streamlined general permit for living shorelines. The average review time has dropped from 120 days to about 60, said the corps' Lisa Parker.
The corps' Northern Florida region, which is headquartered in Jacksonville and covers all of the Florida Panhandle, also is developing an expedited permit that could cut living shore permit wait times to as little as 30 days, said Cliff Payne, section chief for the corps. The new permit process should be unveiled by next spring.
In North Carolina, the state agency is in the process of relaxing its permitting process, but at least one coastal district of the corps still provides a regulatory disincentive for natural solutions, according to the Coastal Federation, which is working to change that.
Weighing options for change
For some coastal areas, age-old street plans can add yet another layer of complexity. In Pensacola, a street was platted along the edge of a bayou but was never paved, so the waterfront property is actually the county right of way. A group of homeowners said they had to wait two years just to get county authorities to allow them to proceed with applications to plant native grasses and build oyster-shell breakwaters.
"I don't care if the county owns it or if I own it, I just want to protect the shore," said Blackwell. His suggestion: a countywide master plan that would provide a step-by-step process to protect shorelines in all situations.
One group in Florida hopes to take it a step further and establish a program that would provide state and federal funding for 75 percent of the cost of shore restoration, with the property owner paying 25 percent.
The idea is modeled on the heralded Rebuild Northwest Florida program that provides hurricane fortification for homeowners and cuts insurance premiums significantly. Another idea is for local communities to require their own permits -- and charge much more for bulkheads.
A critical next step is to educate the contractors who install bulkheads, supporters say.
"It makes more sense if a contractor can go to the property owner and say, 'There are two different ways we can do this: a bulkhead, or for less money, a living shoreline,'" Sapp said.
This year has flown by, and Birdfest is almost here! Inside you'll find information on the upcoming annual Halloween Celebration, Birdfest activities, and new exhibits coming soon to Apalachee Exhibit Hall. Be sure to check out the Calendar as it ispacked full with exciting events as summer winds down.
The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) is seeking information from qualified firms concerning the possibility of outsourcing a research and marketing/educational initiative to aid the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program in their clean water awareness/call-to-action efforts. You can view the full proposal in our Library of Documents.