BALDWIN COUNTY, Ala. (WKRG) – Every Wednesday starting in April they suit up and head to one of 14 waterways in Mobile and Baldwin Counties.
“They’ll read the samples. Anything that’s over the EPA’s safe to swim threshold they’ll go out again, resample just to double check and be sure,” said Mobile Baykeeper’s staff scientist Cassie Bates.
This team is part of Mobile Baykeeper, an environmental watchdog group, keeping a close eye on coastal Alabama. During the summer months they’re busy making sure places like Fish River at Bohemian Park are safe to swim.
“Because we’re entering our rainy season we’ll see higher levels more often. We only sample once a month in our off season and typically that’s our dry season,” she explained.
Bates tells us frequent rain this time of year causes stormwater, sewage spills and pet waste to drain into creeks, rivers and bays. She says not all, but some of the development in Baldwin County caused by the rapid population growth isn’t helping the problems.
“As far as stormwater goes, having irresponsible development practices where you’re not practicing low impact development where you’re not leaving some natural filtration in place like trees and fields to capture stormwater and filter out those pollutants can lead to a lot of issues,” she continued.
That’s something residents are also watching as they, too, monitor what’s happening making sure they avoid swimming or fishing when an alert is issued.
“There are people who are coming here to enjoy the waterways. I’m concerned about what’s happening with the rivers Magnolia River, Fish River from the runoff that’s happened,” said Marla Barnes.
The water samples collected at each site are tested for E. coli and other bacteria. They’re sent to the lab and anyone subscribed to Mobile Baykeeper’s ‘Swim Where It’s Monitored’ program, or SWIM for short, is notified once levels are considered unsafe.
“It’s important for people to have access to that information. I think it’s kind of hard to disseminate that information from a scientific study, so having that map easily accessible and seeing the different levels really easily is really important,” said Mobile Baykeeper’s field investigations lead member Chloe Ray.
With help from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the City of Daphne and the Alabama Department of Public Health additional sites are tested frequently. That information is compiled and made available to anyone looking to enjoy a day on the water.
“The health department will ultimately put out a swim advisory. With our SWIM program we color code for people to make decisions on their own. So, if it’s over a certain threshold we recommend not swimming there that weekend, or waiting a few days after heavy rain,” Bates said.
A blue mark on Mobile Baykeeper’s interactive map indicates low bacteria levels. A red mark indicates high bacteria levels and a gray mark means the levels are unknown because that particular site hasn’t been tested within the past 7 days. It’s a process repeated time and time again and as more folks move to our area Mobile Baykeeper says it’s important to make sure they know where to go and where to avoid.
Click here to stay updated with Mobile Baykeeper’s SWIM program and their water quality reports.