Updates from Black Warrior Riverkeeper on the Northport sewage spill

Stay up to date on the sewage spill in Northport with Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s Facebook updates.

Southeast Green’s Holiday festivities on Black Warrior River dampened by Sewer Spill at City of Northport 

Click here to read the original story on al.com.


July 13: Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke meets with Northport City Officials. He wants to know exactly how much sewage was leaked into the river over the July 4 holiday weekend. He also wants the city to explain why citizens weren’t notified better.

Update from July 11:

 Black Warrior Riverkeeper Still Seeking Answers Following Massive Northport Sewage Spill

Update from July 10:

July 10th update by Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, on the Northport Sewer Spill:

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.


Update on July 4:

Northport sewer spill update and map by Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper, July 5 at 1pm: “I called the Northport Wastewater Department to get an update on the sewage spill, and was told to call Julie Ramm, Northport’s Community Relations Coordinator, at (205) 339-7000. I got her voicemail and left a message at 9am. Have not heard back from her as of 12:30pm. I also called Mayor Bobby Herndon and Interim City Administrator Charles Swann. Mr. Swann called me back at 10:45 and fielded my questions. Permanent repairs are being made the the broken 20-inch wastewater force main on 5th Street in Northport today and tomorrow. They hope to work quickly to avoid any additional spills at their lift stations, which would flow into nearby creeks, and ultimately the river. His understanding is that the force main broke under 5th St. near the intersection with 30th Ave. Personnel had to turn off lift station pumps to depressurize the force main line so that repairs could be made; that caused the lift station wet wells to fill up, and overflow into nearby streams, which ultimately flow into the Black Warrior River. They have no sewage spill volume update at this time; their Wastewater System Manager and Utilities Director are trying to compute the volume of the spill. No water quality testing of streams or the river was performed by the city, and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) was closed over the holidays when Northport reported the spill. Northport will be discussing with ADEM what reporting and cleanup requirements there may be. The extent of public notice given by Northport consisted of 2 posts on their Facebook page, a link to the post on their website, and a tweet linking to the post from Northport Fire Rescue. Mr. Swann said Northport will be doing a review of what they could have done better, and they will be having a tabletop discussion about everything in the coming days. They are potentially looking at better notification procedures as a part of their discussion. Black Warrior Riverkeeper believes the City of Northport was not prepared to handle the upset conditions with their wastewater collection system, did not have an adequate spill response plan and protocol in place, should have made sure an understanding of what happened was shared with city personnel available 24hrs. at the city’s Emergency Water/Wastewater Number so the inquiring public could be informed, and could have done far more to ensure that adequate public notice was provided via the Tuscaloosa County Health Department and local media outlets – and most importantly – at local parks, river access points, and boat launches in the immediate area of the spill & downstream of the spill. Without being able to quickly determine the volume of the spill, what streams were impacted and where, Northport’s task of properly notifying the public – a key requirement of their NPDES water pollution permit issued by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) – was left undone. It is a real shame that there is no clear understanding of what the downstream impacts of the spill are, and that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people were unknowingly swimming and recreating downstream during the Fourth of July holiday, and will continue to do so without proper public notice. We have offered our assistance to Northport to help them be better prepared for future mishaps. This cannot happen again. This spill and its aftermath is one of many examples across the Black Warrior River watershed and the state of Alabama where municipalities are not properly notifying the public of raw sewage spills, and where ADEM is not enforcing the law in Alabama. These operational and enforcement failures are putting far too many people downstream at risk. It is time for systemic change in Alabama! Here is a map we created of the spill area: google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=1wjRYVyqY_IQonx7-gqF6CVOU2wk Until further notice, we do not recommend swimming in the river near Tuscaloosa and Northport.”

Northport sewer spill update 9am July 4 by Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper:


“I called the Northport Wastewater Department (205) 752-5907 at 9am, and they are of course not open today. The guy I spoke with yesterday was wrong about them being open today. I spoke with someone at the Northport “Emergency Water/Wastewater Number” (205) 333-3017 at 9:15am. The guy I spoke with today said that he is at the drinking water plant and wastewater is a different dept. I told him Northport’s website lists his # as the 24hr emergency water/wastewater number. He said that’s because there’s someone here 24/7 to answer the phone. He said “all I know is what’s been posted on the website.” In looking at the website at 9:30am, the only new info was posted 20 hours ago, and says nothing about how much sewage was spilled or what downstream impacts to the river mean for people recreating and swimming on the 4th of July! I asked if there was any way to learn more so we could notify downstream users TODAY. He said he was sorry, he didn’t know – we would have to wait until tomorrow when they reopen. It is unbelievable that Northport is not working diligently to inform the public, to ensure people are not swimming in raw sewage on the 4th of July! It is also a real shame that neither the Tuscaloosa County Health Department nor the AL Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) have sent out public notices to inform the public during the holiday. The City of Northport is required by their ADEM permit to notify the public of sewage spills. While Northport may have put out two public notices via Facebook, those notices were not sufficient in detail, nor have they properly informed the public of whether or not it is safe to be swimming in the river downstream today.”

UPDATE JULY 3, 2:30 pm:

Northport has posted an update about its major sewer spill but its update does not address these key questions that John Wathen is asking: “How long did it flow? At what rate? Have any health warnings been posted for people intending on recreating in the water?”

 JULY 3, 1:40 pm:

“There is a major sewage overflow going on right now in Northport, contaminating the river and several tributaries: Harper Creek, Mill Creek, and Upper Smith Creek. The only public notice given so far by Northport was via their Facebook page 14 hours ago. It is not clear exactly when the spills began, how much sewage has been spilled, if the city or state have done any water quality sampling on the river, if any downstream public health notices or water contact warnings are being issued, or when the problems will be fixed. Lots of questions right now, but unfortunately nobody answering Northport phones, including their 24-hour Emergency Water/Wastewater Number (205) 333-3017, seems to know anything. We are cautioning people to refrain from swimming downstream of Northport and Tuscaloosa until we get better information from Northport and ADEM. Northport has failed to adequately notify the public. It is clear they do not have an adequate spill response plan and protocol in place, so we are calling on them to ensure this doesn’t happen in the future. We will be calling the Northport Wastewater Department at (205) 752-5907 for an update when they open at 8am tomorrow. We’ll send out updates via Facebook.” -Nelson Brooke, Black Warrior Riverkeeper