What is the City's commitment to the health of Mobile Bay?
The City of Fairhope knows that our greatest asset is Mobile Bay and the many streams and creeks in our watershed that feed it. We take water quality very seriously and are committed to a healthy Bay in which to safely recreate and fish and in which our sea life can flourish.
We assure our citizens that poor water quality readings are not acceptable and we must take additional actions that help identify the sources of such readings.
What are sources of poor water quality?
Living in a beautiful and growing coastal environment with some of the highest rainfall levels in the country comes with its challenges, and we are not alone in our constant battle to meet the challenge of assuring water quality. Sanitary System Overflows (SSOs) can be one source of poor water quality, as are stormwater discharges from agricultural operations, construction of homes and businesses, failed septic systems and private sewer operations, boat waste, industrial operations, lawn fertilizers, chemicals and even pet waste. Mobile Bay is the repository of runoff from four states, so pinpointing the source of water contamination can be a difficult task.
What has the City been doing?
Water tests in Fairhope are conducted by regulatory agencies, including the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH). In addition, the City of Fairhope has been voluntarily engaged with Mobile Baykeeper to perform water quality tests at sites on Fly Creek. Mobile Baykeeper also regularly tests sites in known swimming areas along Mobile Bay, and has reported results of bacterial contamination that exceed the EPA recommended water quality standards for swimming. This is not acceptable for us; neither should it be for the citizens of Fairhope. Consequently, Public Utilities Director Richard Peterson is focused on additional activities within the City’s purview, to advance a plan of action.
Over the past 20 months, the City has been hard at work to identify and address water quality concerns.
What is the Community Resilience Index process?
City leaders invited key stakeholders to participate in and complete a Community Resilience Index process which identified community, economic and infrastructure weaknesses throughout the City. Led by Economic and Community Development, this process identified partnerships and funding to address those weaknesses.
Completing this process resulted in the following:
- Securing a Gulf of Mexico Alliance grant to engineer stormwater in one of our most vulnerable watersheds, Tatumville Gully;
- Streamlining communications and safety measures by the emergency management team during disasters; and
- Securing technical assistance and funding to create a preliminary plan for Fairhope Docks and to begin the process of Clean & Resilient Marina Certification: https://gulfofmexicoalliance.org/2013/05/gomas-clean-resilient-marina-initiative/
This process helped Fairhope Docks secure the funding for the development of a pump-out station there that minimizes boat waste into our Bay. The single-walled and old gas tank was also identified as a threat and was replaced by a new double-walled tank. The new tank also includes spill valves and equipment and procedures in the event of an emergency are now in place.
What grant funding as been secured to help?
We also secured grant funding provided, in part, by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, State Lands Division, Coastal Section and NOAA’s National Coastal Zone Management Program to complete critical assessments and raise public awareness about the role we all play in keeping our waterways clean.
This grant funding allowed the City to:
- Complete a GIS inventory of 196 storm drain outfalls located in Cowpen Creek (total 90), Big Mouth (total 69) and Stack Gully (total 23) and produce a GIS map characterizing the inventory and prioritizing areas of highest concern regarding storm water pollution control;
- Work with Fairhope High School and the Eastern Shore Art Center to design medallions to be permanently embedded on storm drains around the City to bring awareness to the fact that what goes into the drains impacts our Bay;
- Host a “Storm Drain Marking Event” organized around Earth Day and involving citizens to kick-off the placement of the medallions; and https://thefairhopetimes.blogspot.com/2018/04/storm-drain-markers-installed-for-water.html
- Design and produce brochures to educate the public about stormwater pollution and ways to reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff. The brochure was also provided to the State Lands Division to be used as a template for other communities in Alabama’s Coastal Zone. https://www.fairhopeal.gov/home/showdocument?id=18049
What about signage around town?
Implementation of projects to educate the public about the dangers of naturally occurring Vibrio bacteria began and were applauded by the State Department of Public Health. The initial phase of these efforts includes installing new signage at North Beach that offer ways to protect against the harmful effects of this bacteria. We will also be installing several showers along the waterfront with instructional fliers.
What testing is the City doing?
The City continues to gather the necessary information to make data-driven, informed decisions.
The latest Water Quality Report can be found here:
Capacity Study for Gas, Water and Sewer Utilities – Phase I
This study allowed the City to submit a proposal for Restore funding for sewer upgrades.
What is next?
In addition to the efforts now underway, we are committed to finding solutions to improve water quality above the water’s edge -- at, or upstream, of the discharges of each individual watershed found in the City of Fairhope. Finding spikes in bacterial counts within any watershed of the City of Fairhope helps narrow the focus for finding its cause. It is essential to locate the sources and the causes of any contamination that may come from our own wastewater collection or stormwater conveyance system, so we can find a remedy that is under our control. Pinpointing sources outside our system and control are best left to other organizations and agencies.
Fairhope Utilities has been discussing options with regulatory agencies and the Mayor and recommends the following actions:
- Utilities’ staff members are developing a plan to test stormwater discharges to Mobile Bay and Fish River that originate from Fairhope watersheds within the City’s jurisdiction and wastewater service area. Samples will test water upstream of the Bay to include bacteria and other potential markers that are constituents of wastewater A testing protocol will be developed to ensure “first flush” testing after rain events, and subsequent “steady-state” samples. Samples resulting in high bacteria concentrations will allow us to focus our assessment and rehabilitation efforts in these specific areas. Our goal will be to find and repair any inflow/ infiltration issues within our system, and to identify any cross connections between the wastewater collection system and the stormwater conveyance system. We will also be developing benchmark data against which to test future samples and plan for our testing activities to be a long-term, sustainable activity.
- Where possible, we will be working to partner our own staff members with volunteer water quality monitors in our community who are trained in the protocol and can provide tests and samples that are sound and consistent.
How is the City using RESTORE Act funding to improve water quality?
Water quality projects to be funded as a result of proposals submitted to the Restore Council in 2017 include:
Fairhope Sewer Upgrade Phase I - $10,000,000
This funding will support major rehabilitation measures of our sewer system. This will involve the complete replacement of the 4 main pump stations (North Section Street, South Section Street, Thompson Hall and Doghouse Pumping Stations), and rehabilitation of the major gravity outfall lines. We will utilize engineering solutions that have the least impact on the environment. An assessment team will perform system mapping, videoing, line inspection and cleaning, and point repairs. The system’s Supervisory Control & Data Acquisition (SCADA) equipment will be upgraded to ensure system reliability. Portable generators will be purchased to provide continuous facility operations during power outages. The old clay collection lines will be rehabilitated with Cured-In-Place-Pipe Liner.
This project will protect the water quality of Mobile Bay and modernize our system. The project is intended to reduce pollutant loading and improve discharges to Mobile Bay by reducing the number and frequency of sanitary sewer overflows from Fairhope’s public sewer system.
Eastern Shore Sanitary Sewer Overflow Prevention Plan - $1,000,000
The purpose of this project is to minimize, or eliminate, sanitary sewer overflows on the Eastern Shore resulting from insufficient capacity and inflow and infiltration from excess stormwater.
In addition, the project aims to improve the overall water quality of Mobile Bay by protecting runoff to the Bay from sanitary sewers and sediment from stormwater erosion.
The objective of the project is to map and model projected growth patterns along the Eastern Shore; identify areas of wastewater and stormwater needs to address this anticipated growth; and develop short-term strategies for dealing with current capacity issues related to growth and long-term plans for capacity improvements. This includes gathering information and evaluating our wastewater infrastructure, performing wastewater and non-point source outfall modeling, watershed modeling, and creating stormwater design criteria.
Working Waterfront and Greenspace Restoration Project - $6,200,000
This is primarily a bluff stabilization project that integrates improvements to the shoreline and bluffs to promote resiliency, sustainability and interaction with our Bay. The project includes green infrastructure and living shoreline strategies to protect the Bayfront shoreline from future erosion and provide new opportunities for our community and visitors to engage with the Bay at our Municipal Pier, our unofficial town square.
The project includes upgrades to drainage infrastructure, stormwater management facilities, construction of shoreline structures (breakwaters, jetties and groins) and upgrades to seawalls.
Who should I contact if I have concerns?
If you have questions about water quality, contact the Water Department by filling out the contact form found here (bottom of page): https://www.fairhopeal.gov/departments/public-utilities/water-and-sewer
For more information about grants or projects, contact Economic and Community Development by filling out the contract form found here (bottom of page): https://www.fairhopeal.gov/departments/planning-and-development-services/economic-and-community-development