Out and About

Buck Creek: a success story

I read an excellent al.com article last fall written by Dennis Pillion called “2 Years, $1.25M Later, Buck Creek has Life Again.” It was about how “life” in an industrialized and populated part of Buck Creek in Shelby County was revived when industry and the community pooled their concerns into restoration. Little did I know then how similar that situation would be to recent events right here in Blount County. The pressures of industry and development on the environment have come to light once again in our own backyard.

In 2016, volunteer water quality monitors performing chemical testing in the Cahaba River Watershed in Shelby County indicated toxic levels of pH (acidity) in Buck Creek. Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) was contacted to verify the increased pH levels. ADEM confirmed the 12.5 pH levels exceeded the 5.0 – 9.0 pH safe range for fish and other aquatic life. Since 8.5 pH is the tolerated quality standard set by ADEM for permitted industry discharges into a stream, the search was launched to determine why that part of Buck Creek was “dead.”

The most likely source of the excessive pH level would be point-source industrial discharge from a nearby lime and stone production facility. However, the ADEM-required monthly facility-reported levels did not indicate excessive pH values. Through joint efforts by the water monitors, industrial facility, and ADEM, it was discovered waste water was seeping into the creek through pH contaminated ground water; NOT it’s point-source discharge. Once the source of contamination was determined, restoration measures to bring life back to Buck Creek were implemented.

Thanks to the combined efforts of the stakeholders, Buck Creek’s aquatic life is thriving today. Even though the required self-testing did not implicate the production facility, the facility wanted to help find out why Buck Creek was dying. They wanted to be a good neighbor in the community where many of their employees lived.

The message in Mr. Pillion’s article can be applied to the Tyson Foods pollution of the Mulberry Fork this summer that killed an estimated 175,000 fish. “Industry, be a good neighbor in the community!” Tyson could go over and beyond just making repairs, paying a financial penalty for their negligence, and making very public apologies. Tyson could upgrade their water treatment process over and beyond just what they have to do to ensure compliance with their ADEM permit. After all, Tyson does have more efficient water treatment processes at other Tyson-owned facilities. That unselfish investment would show all the local downstream residents they are committed to being a good steward of the environment as their “Open Letter to the Residents of Hanceville” exclaimed.

Tyson has requested ADEM approve a permit renewal to discharge over a million gallons of treated waste water per day from the Blountsville processing facility via the Graves Creek tributary of the Locust Fork River. Scary! I hope a deadly accidental discharge does not happen on the Locust Fork!