MBNEP's Tom Herder's guest column in the special 2020 Earth Day issue of Natural Awakenings.
Along the northern Gulf Coast, we face increased risk from climate change-related stressors, including warmer summers, winters, and waters; increasing incidences and durations of drought; increasing frequency and intensity of tropical weather events; and sea-level rise. The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP) has made significant progress in assessing and raising awareness about the impacts of climate change across all Alabama coastlines.
Several initiatives recommended in the Three Mile Creek Watershed Management Plan (WMP) from 2014 have been implemented to address low-lying, traditionally underserved, minority communities that are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts.
MLK Avenue Leadership Academy and Conservation Corps
In 2015, MBNEP partnered with the Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue Redevelopment Corporation to train “emerging and reluctant leaders” in environmental awareness, climate change vulnerability, leadership, communication and conflict resolution. After attending 10 two-hour training sessions, the 14 participants successfully encouraged the Mobile City Council to formally adopt the Three Mile Creek WMP and recommended that education and job training be used to connect young adults with environmental assets. This recommendation culminated in the creation of the pilot Coastal Alabama Conservation Corps in 2017.
Read more on Natural Awakenings Website
Toulmins Spring Branch Community Engagement The Coastal Alabama Conservation Corps program hired and trained under-employed, high-risk, young adults to implement smaller-scaled WMP implementation measures, such as clearing stormwater drainage infrastructure, controlling/eradicating invasive species, and providing credible community outreach. They also helped install rain barrels as the inception of the Prichard Rain Barrel Program to reduce runoff, educate residents about sources and mitigation of stormwater runoff, and provide a free source of non-potable water.
In 2015, MBNEP hired Kimberly Pettway of the University of South Alabama to lead an effort to engage Toulmins Spring Branch residents in community planning. The goal for the residents was to adapt to climate change impacts and build capacity for improving community resilience. Three community meetings were held to educate residents about the environment, causes of flooding and water pollution, and how hazards can increase due to the effects of climate change. The series concluded in an Ideas Festival to identify community assets in need of protection, offer ideas to reduce flooding, identify existing resources to increase resilience, explore opportunities to work with the City of Prichard to increase resilience, and identify community members willing to help.
Additionally, Dr. Tracie Sempier of Mississippi Alabama Sea Grant Consortium educated elected officials, state agency heads, and regional government administrators about the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and Community Rating System. The insurance program (implemented by FEMA) provides federally backed flood insurance to communities that adopt minimum floodplain management requirements. The Community Rating System is an incentive program for the NFIP with goals to reduce flood losses, facilitate accurate insurance ratings, and promote the awareness of flood insurance to address vulnerabilities related to rising sea level. Dr. Sempier also led several coastal Alabama municipalities in developing Community Resilience Indices to examine their levels of preparation for storms and storm recovery.
Tom Herder is the Watershed Protection Coordinator at Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (MBNEP). For more information on how the impacts of climate change are being addressed on the Gulf Coast, see MBNEP’s 2019-2023 Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan at or visit MobileBayNEP.com.