Group working to clean Mobile Bay, other waters

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FAIRHOPE – An Eastern Shore non-profit group is moving ahead with efforts to improve the quality of water on Mobile Bay and throughout the state, organizers said. Clean Water Alabama was formed in early 2021. John Manelas, president of the group, said the group is not political. He said clean water and protecting Mobile Bay and other waterways are important to many people regardless of their political affiliation. Our goal is just to say, OK, if you're Democrat, Republican, independent agnostic whatever you are, we all want clean water,” Manelas said. “So, the question is what can Clean Water do that these other groups have not done. We've pretty well set about a pretty definite goal of what we want to do. The first thing we want to do is educate everyone on what it is that's affecting our waterways and the urgency around that, particularly the development that's going on in South Alabama, and that’s not only educating our citizens but our elected officials.” He said CWA members are working to identify threats to local waters and determine what can be done to fix those threats. “A couple of us are working on constructing proposed legislation on septic systems,” Manelas said. “The idea there not being that we want to eliminate them, but if you have a failing septic system within proximity to any waterways including streams, you know feeder water that goes into streams and rivers and lakes and bays, then they want to adopt a program for reimbursement to homeowners to fix them. And also, to convert to municipal water where it exists.” Manelas said Rep. Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, has worked with the group since its creation. He said Faust sponsored legislation recognizing the importance of clean water access in Alabama and endorsing the mission of Clean Water Alabama, that was signed by Gov. Kay Ivey. Faust said that since most of the Alabama’s rivers flow into Mobile Bay, improving water quality will require a statewide effort. “Alabama the Beautiful often describes where we call home. Encompassing that description are our many lakes, rivers, bays and miles of oceanfront,” Faust said in a statement. “As Alabamians, our abundant water resources contribute greatly to the quality of life that we enjoy, so making sure that water is clean and healthy is an issue that I believe will resonate with all of our citizens.” Earlier this year, Faust and CWA members met with Ivey, Jo Bonner, her chief of staff and a former member of Congress, as well as Alabama Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon to discuss ways to improve water quality. Manelas said Faust is also working with the group on efforts to draft other legislation to improve water quality. The CWA is also working on education projects. Member Wayne Miller, a former sixth-grade teacher, has been writing two books for children on the environment. The work includes illustrations by Grace Roberts, an artist who worked as a Coastal Alabama Community College intern with the group. “Our idea is to produce those provide them free wherever people bring their children, whether that's a restaurant, pediatricians office, retail store, and provide the crayons that go with it, and just a way to educate children on what pollutes and what they can do to contribute to preventing that from happening,” Manelas said. Eastern Shore residents and officials have launched efforts to raise awareness on the importance of protecting Alabama’s abundant water resources. The non-profit organization, “Clean Water Alabama (CWA),” was formed earlier this year by local citizens and State Rep. Joe Faust, R-Fairhope, initially due to concerns over Weeks Bay but has broadened its purpose to address the issue statewide. John Manelas, president of Clean Water Alabama and a key organizer of the group, said he hopes to get as many people as possible involved in the project. One initial effort to enlist support includes distribution of a water quality survey to Baldwin County residents to inform on citizen utilization of waterways, concerns regarding water quality, and who citizens hold accountable for related problems and ultimate solutions. “We’re trying to bring everyone in this tent to say what’s missing from what’s being done now to where we can put a little more effort behind not only keeping our waters clean but preserving it for generations to come.” The CWA has also been working with county officials to discuss projects such as county plans to convert three dirt pits near the Magnolia River back to their natural habitat. Dirt running off from construction projects or erosion caused by development is a major source of pollution in developing areas such as Baldwin County, Manelas said. Another project is developing more retention ponds to put more water back into the local aquifers. Manelas said some sources of groundwater are being depleted as more water is pumped from the aquifers to meet the needs of a growing population. One example of the depletion is that the aquifer that send water to the site on the Magnolia River known as “The Cold Hole,” is diminishing. “If you recharge the groundwater around there and redirect some of the runoff, it will replenish some of those water sources on the ground,” Manelas said. The group recently established its website. More information about the CWA is available at cleanwateralabama.com.