Fairhope's water future: Councilman Corey Martin's vision for sustainable solutions

Lifestyle Editor
Posted 9/12/23

Corey Martin is a first-term Fairhope city councilman who is looking for creative solutions to protect Fairhope's water resource for future generations. This summer, the city of Fairhope struggled …

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Fairhope's water future: Councilman Corey Martin's vision for sustainable solutions


Corey Martin is a first-term Fairhope city councilman who is looking for creative solutions to protect Fairhope's water resource for future generations.

This summer, the city of Fairhope struggled with the water system. High temperatures and a lack of summer rain took a toll. Customers were using water faster than the system could refill the storage tanks, so Mayor Sherry Sullivan asked residents to voluntarily limit the use of water for irrigation, car washing and pool uses as the city moved through three phases in its emergency water conservation plan. City council approved Sullivan's requested changes to the water conservation plan to allow for earlier shifts in the phases to implement mandatory restrictions on water usage.

The most recent solution Sullivan brought before council was for a water connection project between Fairhope Public Utilities and Daphne Utilities. The project will establish a linkage between the two systems and increase Fairhope or Daphne's capacity by 500,000 gallons of water in the event of an emergency. Fairhope City Council approved the project Aug. 29.

With no slowdown in sight to the development and growth of Fairhope, Martin is looking for solutions to the city's future water needs. He brought up the subject most recently during the Aug. 29 council meeting, but that wasn't the first time.

"Other municipalities in other states and even here, with the new Clean Water Act that we have, we're able to reclaim or reuse water, which some people call greywater," Martin said. "In that water, it goes through our wastewater treatment plant, and it's cleaned and it's sanitized and it goes back into our bay right now. So instead of putting it back into our bay we can reclaim that water and put it in a reservoir and use it as a distribution source for irrigation only."

Martin said his interest in alternative water sources and uses was triggered by a water supply issue in Fairhope back in 2020 or 2021. It was at that time he learned about how the distribution of water worked in Fairhope.

"When I learned how our distribution of the water worked and why we were low (water being used for irrigation) it made sense to separate the water," Martin said. "If we are using our nutrition, our drinking water that provides nutrients and we survive off to piss in the grass, grandmother would say, 'Don't piss in the grass keep your drinking water.' That is just basic common sense."

When the Fairhope water system is using 8 million gallons a day, Martin said about half is being used for purposes other than drinking, such as irrigation, car washing, pressure washing or filling a pool.

"I get it. I like my grass to look good too, but not enough to kill myself," Martin said. "There are priorities as far as the food chain, priorities and hierarchy of care. There are certain things my brain puts over things."

Martin has been to Africa on mission trips and seen water issues on a global level.

"We are steadily trying to put wells in and find water and equipment that can tap deep enough to get the water," Martin said. "They are walking 10 miles to get to school to get water, and some can't get to school. They are still walking 10 miles to get water.

"There are real water problems as close as California, and for us to not know biblically and historically that we can't depend or take for granted our resources that the Creator made and just be willy nilly with them; that is a first-world problem. That drives me bonkers."

Martin said we need to start planning for the future with our water resources.

"We have a big aquafer down there, but that doesn't mean that our solution is to keep digging wells until we use it up. Then our great-great-grandchildren ask where is the water," he said. "We did that with infrastructure. Historically, we just learned that we have to start planning 30, 50, 100 years out if we are prudent and wise. I am trying to get my constituents around me to start thinking like that and express it to the public. I think you are going to get most of the public that appreciates that."

The big idea

Martin said the city of Fairhope's sanitation system cleans, sanitizes and returns around 4 million gallons of cleaned wastewater to the watershed every day. He would like to find a way to utilize it.

"I went to residency in Florida, and I've been to Arizona and California and all these places do greywater. They separate their lines because they appreciate their drinking water," Martin said. "They know their water levels are low out there, so they appreciate their drinking waters. We will get to that point. If you do enough reading, it is coming around the U.S. and it is something environmentalists are worried about, not just climate control but water levels. For us to now know that and to just say, 'Hey we will just put 4 gallons of our drinking water on our lawns and not build infrastructure to stop that for the future.' I just think that is vain, and I have said that a thousand times."

After being told that greywater or reclaimed water use is illegal in Alabama, Martin began looking into it with a call to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). During the call, he found out the uses have been legal for two or three years thanks to the Clean Water Act.

"The crazy part is there is nobody with an application to do this in Alabama. No one. We would be the first," Martin said. "It is crazy. Why not be the first to do something? Why not be proud of that and put your flag up?"

M. Lynn Battle, chief office of external affairs, said ADEM does not have regulations that specifically address greywater. However, ADEM Admin. Code Rule 335-6-20 defines the permit program with specific requirements for the reuse of water from municipal/domestic wastewater treatment facilities.

The ADEM Admin. Code Rule 335-6-20-0.10 Municipal Reclaimed Water Reuses says the uses for Class A and Class B reclaimed water include:

(a). Land application on fodder, fiber crops, ornamental nursery stock, sod and seed crops not intended for human ingestion and pasture for animals not producing milk for human consumption; and

(b) During periods or non-use, irrigation of golf courses, highway medians and roadside vegetation and cemeteries.

(c) Class A reclaimed water can also be reused for irrigation of parks, ball fields, playgrounds and schoolyards during periods of non-use, residential and commercial campuses.

Martin, who serves on the Fairhope Environmental Advisory Board, went to the board members and asked them to investigate the project. He said he needs their help to find out if Fairhope could use greywater and how it could be done. They told him a feasibility study would be needed, and they found a company.

"I think we have some grant money to order that feasibility study to get this done," Martin said. "That is where we are. We are taking steps to see what that looks like."

Right now, Martin's mission is to find out if it can be done, how it can be done and at what cost. The feasibility study will be the start, and then, depending on the results, the next step would be to find engineers who can look and think outside the box and find a safe and financially viable option. He is open to looking to college students for an innovative plan as well.

"We got Tuskegee students involved in making a design to get more greenspace on Young and Nichols at the old substation. It would be the same concept," he said. "There are ways to do it to be innovative and encourage learning and excitement and moving forward at the same time."

Martin and the Fairhope Environmental Advisory Board will continue to work toward getting the feasibility study done. Once done, they will know the next steps. This isn't a quick process, but Martin is hopeful.

"It's time for us to have a vision and have action with that," he told Gulf Coast Media in September 2020 during his campaign for council. "Vision without action is merely a daydream. Action without vision is just passing time. With vision and action, you can conquer the world."