Black Warrior Riverkeeper Still Seeking Answers Following Massive Northport Sewage Spill
A sewer pump malfunction in Northpost over Independence Day weekend resulted in hundreds of thousands--and possibly even MILLIONS--of gallons of raw sewage being pumped directly into the Black Warrior River and surrounding creeks. Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a local environmental advocacy group dedicated to the health of the Black Warrior River and its watershed, is still seeking answers from the City of Northport. A recently published status update questions the City's failure to provide an accurate estimate of the actual volume of raw sewage pumped into the river (the City's report to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management puts an estimate between 400,000 and 4 MILLION gallons) as well as its continued failure to provide the public with information in a timely manner. You can read the status update below.
I have now updated the July 2 Northport Sewage Spill Google map slightly with clarifications: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer… What I created on July 5th, based on limited information from Northport, turned out to show accurate locations for all 5 spills. Northport erroneously left Tater Hill Creek out of their public notice posted on Facebook, and it was not included in the Tuscaloosa News article published on Friday, July 8th. The pumping station at 6770 5th Street is in the industrial park area, so we will be seeking further information from Northport about the spill at that site and whether it contained industrial chemicals, in addition to raw sewage.
Sometime between Friday, July 8th and Sunday, July 10th Northport's "Sanitary Sewer Overflow Event Reporting Forms" were uploaded to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management's (ADEM) eFile website. The public can now access Northport’s publicly disclosed documents online with eFile:
ADEM eFile - http://app.adem.alabama.gov/eFile/
- click the Water box
- enter Permit Number: AL0064394
- choose Document Category/Type "Monitoring" for Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs), “Permitting” for annual reports on system performance (MWPP), & “_leave blank_” to look for Noncompliance Notification Forms (NCF), Warning Letters (EWL), Inspection Reports (INSP)
- click Search button
- documents should appear below, and then you must click "Download" and wait for each .pdf document to download
Now that we have seen Northport's sewage spill reports to ADEM, Black Warrior Riverkeeper has questions:
1) Why are spills reported to have taken place between 2-11pm on Saturday, July 2nd when their Facebook notice stated 8am-10pm and personnel have been quoted saying the four pumping stations' pumps were turned off that morning?
2) Why is Northport unable to more accurately account for the volume spilled? Between 401,000-4,110,000 gallons is a wide spread for a volume estimate! What is being done to ensure sewage spill volumes can be more accurately accounted for in the future?
3) Why did it take Northport so long to estimate the volume of the spills? As of Friday, July 8th (7 days post-spill) - Northport was unable to tell Riverkeeper the sewage spill volumes.
4) Why did Northport report that their spilled sewage did not reach swimming water, knowing that large numbers of people swim and recreate in the river in the Northport/Tuscaloosa area and downstream?
5) Why did Northport report that monitoring (water quality testing) of the receiving water (area creeks and the river) was "not necessary?"
6) Why did Northport only report that it "cleaned" at one of the 5 spill sites (the smallest reported spill site: 5th St. & 30th Ave.), and not at the 4 major pump station spill sites?
7) Northport reports that "disinfection" was performed at the 4 pump station manhole spill sites; What did Northport do to disinfect, and was any disinfection performed downstream of the spill sites in affected areas?; Why was disinfection not performed at the original spill site at 5th St. & 30th Ave?
8) Northport's 2 Facebook posts & press release, and notification of ADEM & the Tuscaloosa County Dept. of Health were not effective at either notifying the public in Northport and Tuscaloosa upstream of Oliver Dam (where 2 of the 5 spills entered the river), nor notifying the public downstream of Northport and Oliver Dam (where 3 of the 5 spills entered the river), what will Northport commit to doing in the future to ensure those who plan on swimming and recreating downstream of spills are properly and adequately notified?
9) Will Northport commit to ensuring its 24-hr. Emergency Water/Wastewater Number (205) 333-3017 serves the purpose implied by the name?
10) Will the City of Northport publish instructions for the general public to sign up for its public notices, so that all who want to be informed can opt-in?
11) Where does Northport stand with regard to ongoing monitoring, maintenance, and upgrades for its sewage collection system?
12) Given the state of the corroded 22-yr. old air release valve on the force main (which caused these spills to happen), will Northport commit to giving the collection system a higher priority going forward?
13) Will Northport meaningfully work toward putting in place a protocol and spill response plan that includes immediate public notice utilizing multiple public and private partners that are all a part of an established notification plan, immediate cleanup and disinfection, concurrent water monitoring to ensure protection of public health downstream, and intermediate information sharing?
ADEM has not yet released sampling data from their Tuesday, July 5th investigation. Black Warrior Riverkeeper will be meeting with the City of Northport this coming week to discuss public notification, transparency, and accountability. We will provide updates as more information is made available.