Mobile Bay Group Battles for Watershed Improvements

Lake Forest Lake and the subdivision of Lake Forest, in Daphne, Baldwin County

Efforts to maintain water quality in areas of rapid residential growth are a balancing act for many communities, especially in coastal areas such as the estuaries that flow into Mobile Bay.

Success in achieving such a balance is no small accomplishment, as attested by the years of work by the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program (NEP), which met recently to work on an update of its master plan and to report on major improvements in one of the area’s previously most problematic streams — the D’Olive Creek watershed that runs through the cities of Daphne and Spanish Fort, areas of rapid residential growth in recent decades.

Erosion and sedimentation were major problems in the area for at least 20 years, but efforts to control the damage have paid off, said Roberta Swann, director of the Mobile Bay NEP, at a July 14 community engagement meeting of the group, reported Gulf Coast News Today.

“We have been working in the D’Olive watershed since 2006,” Swann said. “That’s when we started trying to figure out where all the dirt was coming from, and here we are today so, 14 years later, we have implemented one watershed management plan, 10 years, we actually have a success story to tell, which is the delisting of Joe’s Branch.”

In May, Joe’s Branch, a tributary of D’Olive Creek, was removed from the Alabama List of Impaired Water Bodies. The stream had been on the list since 2008.

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There are 90 streams on this list of impaired Alabama streams, administered by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management under Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act.

“I think the D’Olive watershed management plan and implementation process is a testament to what a community of people can do together,” said Swann.

Jason Kudulis, Mobile Bay NEP restoration programs manager, said relentless growth continues to be a major concern of area residents, as reported by Gulf Coast News Today.

“Long range planning, regulations and oversights and tied into that would be the detention, retention capacity, thinking about the responsibility of long term management, getting that information out there, making sure that homeowners associations do understand their role in that and just thinking about beyond those political boundaries, too, as this watershed continues to grow,” Kudulis said. “How are we going to manage that in a responsible way so we’re not just having these same issues spring up again in 10 years?”

Architect John Peterson told the group that silting is filling to capacity the namesake lake at the center of the Lake Forest community. “Over the years, Lake Forest Lake has received a tremendous amount of silt load and sediment load and now it’s to the point where it’s losing the capacity to treat the stormwater,” he said.

Led by the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission, the Mobile Bay NEP was established in 1992 under rules of the Environmental Protection Agency. Its Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan received final approval on April 22, 2002. The Mobile Bay group continues to update the plan.

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