Sewer Overflows Persist Despite Billions Spent

 ========= Old Image Removed =========Array
(
    [_wp_attached_file] => Array
        (
            [0] => 2015/11/Valley-Creek.jpeg
        )

    [_wp_attachment_metadata] => Array
        (
            [0] => a:5:{s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:360;s:4:"file";s:25:"2015/11/Valley-Creek.jpeg";s:5:"sizes";a:7:{s:6:"medium";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:25:"Valley-Creek-336x202.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:336;s:6:"height";i:202;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:9:"thumbnail";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:25:"Valley-Creek-140x140.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:140;s:6:"height";i:140;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:9:"wbhm-icon";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:23:"Valley-Creek-80x80.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:80;s:6:"height";i:80;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:13:"wbhm-featured";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:25:"Valley-Creek-600x338.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:338;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:18:"wbhm-featured-home";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:25:"Valley-Creek-518x311.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:518;s:6:"height";i:311;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:22:"wbhm-featured-carousel";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:25:"Valley-Creek-442x265.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:442;s:6:"height";i:265;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:14:"post-thumbnail";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:25:"Valley-Creek-125x125.jpeg";s:5:"width";i:125;s:6:"height";i:125;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}}s:10:"image_meta";a:12:{s:8:"aperture";s:1:"0";s:6:"credit";s:0:"";s:6:"camera";s:0:"";s:7:"caption";s:0:"";s:17:"created_timestamp";s:1:"0";s:9:"copyright";s:0:"";s:12:"focal_length";s:1:"0";s:3:"iso";s:1:"0";s:13:"shutter_speed";s:1:"0";s:5:"title";s:0:"";s:11:"orientation";s:1:"0";s:8:"keywords";a:0:{}}}
        )

    [_media_credit] => Array
        (
            [0] => Ashley Cleek
        )

    [_navis_media_credit_org] => Array
        (
            [0] => WBHM
        )

    [_navis_media_can_distribute] => Array
        (
            [0] => 
        )

    [_imagify_optimization_level] => Array
        (
            [0] => 1
        )

    [_imagify_data] => Array
        (
            [0] => a:2:{s:5:"stats";a:3:{s:13:"original_size";i:170567;s:14:"optimized_size";i:110398;s:7:"percent";d:35.280000000000001;}s:5:"sizes";a:9:{s:4:"full";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:53:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2015/11/Valley-Creek.jpeg";s:13:"original_size";i:167136;s:14:"optimized_size";i:107015;s:7:"percent";d:35.969999999999999;}s:9:"thumbnail";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}s:6:"medium";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}s:9:"wbhm-icon";a:5:{s:7:"success";b:1;s:8:"file_url";s:59:"https://news.wbhm.org/media/2015/11/Valley-Creek-80x80.jpeg";s:13:"original_size";i:3431;s:14:"optimized_size";i:3383;s:7:"percent";d:1.3999999999999999;}s:13:"wbhm-featured";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}s:20:"wbhm-featured-square";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}s:18:"wbhm-featured-home";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}s:22:"wbhm-featured-carousel";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}s:14:"post-thumbnail";a:2:{s:7:"success";b:0;s:5:"error";s:77:"WELL DONE. This image is already compressed, no further compression required.";}}}
        )

    [_imagify_status] => Array
        (
            [0] => success
        )

)
1537823379 
1447318241

Every few weeks, Nelson Brooke drives through Jefferson County to check on the spots where the sewer overflows. Brooke is the head of the environmental group Black Warrior Riverkeeper.

At a stop, ten blocks west of downtown Birmingham, Brooke checks on Valley Creek. The water should be clear, but on this day, it looks more like broccoli soup.

“That kind of green-grey, milky cloudiness is a very common thing when you have sewage in water,” Brooke said.

He says it’s been this way for more than a decade. County officials say they don’t know where the sewage is coming from.

Later on his patrol, Brooke knocks on doors to see if residents know of sewage problems in their neighborhoods. Across the street, a young man calls out to ask if Brooke is lost.

“Do you know about sewer overflows?” Brooke asks the man. “Where sewage is coming out of manholes?”

Michael Alexander points to a slope in the street.  “That’s right here,” he said.  “When it rains on this street [sewage] comes out here here and here.”

Alexander, 37, has lived on this block since he was a kid. He says for nearly 30 years the sewer has been overflowing into the street.

“Every time it rains, the sewage comes up out of there and you can’t walk across [the road],” Alexander said. “You splash your car through there, you are going to have crap on your [tires]. You might have a tampon hanging off.”

Alexander makes a face. “The smell is terrible,” he said. “It’s like that for two blocks.”

Alexander says he and his neighbors have just learned to live with it.

 

A Long Running Problem

In 1993 local environmental groups sued Jefferson County which resulted in the Environmental Protection Agency, issuing a consent decree, requiring Jefferson County to comply with the Clean Water Act and stop dumping raw sewage into local rivers and streams. To fix the sewer problems, the county spent over three billion dollars. Except some of the money wasn’t spent on the sewers, it became embroiled in a corruption scandal that led to the county filing for bankruptcy in 2011.  At the time it was largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

In some neighborhoods, sewer overflows continue today.

“Why did you not fix the sewer, when we gave you all of that billions of dollars?” said Shelia Tyson, a Birmingham city councilwoman for the neighborhoods where many of the sewer overflows occur.

Tyson says residents have complained to her of sewage backed up in their yards. They report bad smells, asthma, and skin rashes. Tyson worries raw sewage leaks are causing health problems and that public officials don’t seem to care.

“You know why? It hasn’t hit home yet. It hasn’t affected people with money,” Tyson said. “This is a poor person’s issue. It’s not in their community.”

 

The County’s Response

Director of Environmental Services for Jefferson County David Dennard says it’s not completely the county’s fault.

“Really all of the issues where we are having these recurring overflow areas happen in former municipal systems,” Dennard said. He explains the county took over Birmingham and other cities’ sewer systems, and as a result, it’s been playing catch-up with these overflows.

Dennard says the county has checked off two-thirds of the EPA’s orders in the consent decree and fixed 99 percent of the sewage overflows.

Dan Biles, Deputy County Manager for Infrastructure, says they fixed the biggest problems first, such as sewage flowing into the Cahaba Riiver.  He says It’s not because it’s in a wealthier neighborhood, but because the problem was bigger.

“It doesn’t matter where it is, wherever [we] can spend the dollar to get the best bang for our buck,” Biles said. “Whether it’s Lincoln Ave or Fifth Ave or wherever, it’s about reducing [overflows] and making the most impact.”

Dennard has acknowledged that sewage has overflowed into the streets and creeks of southwest Birmingham for years, so that’s where they are focusing their work.

Right now, a pyramid of pipes and a pile of gravel wait on the side of that street where Michael Alexander lives, suggesting that for the first time in the three decades that he’s lived there, the sewer problem might be fixed.

 

Alabama Will Follow CDC Guidelines For COVID-19 Booster Shots

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has authorized a third shot of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for certain groups.

Alabama Lawmakers Will Take On A $1.3 Billion Prison Construction Plan In A Special Session

As Alabama faces mounting federal pressure to address violence in state prisons, lawmakers begin a special session Monday to vote on a proposal that includes two new mega prisons for men and a new women's facility.

There Were More Deaths Than Births In Alabama Last Year, A Grim First For The State

Alabama's top health official says the state has "literally shrunk." According to preliminary data, it saw 64,714 total deaths and 57,641 births in 2020.

Yes, It Is Safe To Get The COVID And Flu Vaccines At The Same Time

Alabama is gearing up for flu season. Health professionals say it's okay to get the COVID-19 vaccine in conjunction with the flu vaccine.

Hoyt Leaves Legacy In District Eight After Sixteen Years

For the last sixteen years, Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt has represented areas like Ensley, West End and Five Points West. But Hoyt will leave office next month after choosing not to run for reelection. His last meeting is October 19.

Bridging The Empathy Gap Between Birmingham Schools And The Community

The interactive art exhibit “All In” put viewers in the shoes of Ramsay High School students.

More Environment Coverage