Storm water sewers often run untreated into creeks and streams. In Birmingham, which lies in the Black Warrior River watershed, storm water usually ends up in the Black Warrior, which is a source of drinking water for many downriver. In Mobile, the water eventually makes its way to Mobile Bay.
Mobile cut its budget for storm-water monitoring in half beginning in 2005, a cut which a city spokesperson blamed on the economy. The Press-Register report, “Mobile not fully monitoring storm sewer discharges into Mobile Bay,” says that since the cut Mobile has been monitoring only about 20 percent of the storm water system annually.
ADEM responded when the city failed to submit any report, but took no action when the city submitted only partial reporting. As Green Space reported, a large group of state environmental organizations asked the EPA to take over water pollution monitoring earlier this year due to inadequate enforcement of pollution regulations on ADEM’s part.
An accompanying Press-Register report said that the last full report on the Mobile storm sewer system, in 2004, cost $420,000, but the city is now paying $250,000 to monitor only 20 percent of the system.
Jefferson County and many Birmingham-area municipalities once were members of the Storm Water Monitoring Authority, or SWMA, a partnership which provided monitoring services in the area. Jefferson County left SWMA in October 2009 and brought its monitoring program in-house late last year, following the lead of Birmingham, which voted to leave SWMA and adopt a contract with environmental services firm Malcolm Pirnie in January 2008. Jefferson County was paying SWMA about $400,000 annually. Last year, the county attorney and finance director said that bringing the monitoring in-house could cost $1.4 million in personnel costs.
A consortium of corporate landowners and developers known as the Birmingham Alliance for Responsible Development, or BARD, lobbied for Birmingham-area municipalities to withdraw from SWMA. BARD claimed that SWMA was doing too much monitoring.
One of the risks of improper storm water monitoring is a lawsuit from the EPA, which could cost the offending municipality (and, by proxy, its taxpayers) millions in fines, while the construction companies and others that benefited from the lax monitoring and enforcement of storm water get off scot-free. Other risks include contamination of drinking water sources and dangers to aquatic life.