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Thinking differently about water

You probably agree that water quality is important. But have you thought about how you impact the water supply?

An ongoing series of workshops aims to educate both community leaders and private citizens about water quality.

The workshops are hosted by the Buxahatchee Creek Watershed Restoration Project and funded by a 319(h) Clean Water Act Grant through the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and Environmental Protection Agency.

What is a watershed, you might ask? It is the land area that drains into a particular body of water. In this case, much of north Chilton County and south Shelby County drain into the Buxahatchee Creek basin.

Even the drainage ditch in your front yard is part of a watershed, which is why everyone — not just community leaders — can help make a difference.

“Everything boils down to water quality,” said Glenn Littleton, watershed coordinator. “You don’t just look at everything like, ‘Get it out of town as soon as possible.’ It’s about handling your own problems, not sending them down the stream to somebody else.”

As communities in Chilton County implement new regulations in preparation for future growth and development, they must think about how these plans affect water quality. For example, impervious surfaces (those that won’t absorb water) such as concrete, asphalt and rooftops, can worsen water pollution and flooding, depending on how they are laid out.

Some communities are tilting sidewalks away from the street, rather than toward the street, in an effort to diverge rainwater to grassy areas. In this case, the water — and any chemicals in it — is absorbed instead of being sent downstream.

Communities are also installing retention ponds and bio-swells as alternate methods of draining storm water.While it isn’t unusual to see streams diverted and wetlands drained for real estate developments, Littleton said disrupting the natural flow of things can cause unforeseen problems.

“Streams used to have more curves and meanders,” he said. “The concept has always been to deepen and straighten a stream. They’ve taken out flood plains.”

He added that wetlands are the best natural water filters and serve an important role in flood control.

Efforts are being made to better control the impact developments have on the environment. A proposed zoning ordinance for the town of Thorsby, for example, allows for high density housing but requires developers to preserve greater areas than what is used for homes.

The Clean Water Act Grant supports efforts to address non-point source pollution, or pollution with no clearly defined source. This can be caused by row crop farming, livestock production, lawn fertilization, lawn clippings dumped into waterways, and seepage of septic systems that do not function properly.

For more information about non-point source pollution and what you can do, go to www.cleanwaterpartnership.org.

The first of several workshops was held Aug. 20 at the Alabama Power Conference Center in Clanton. The workshop, entitled “Planning for Quality Growth in Chilton and Shelby Counties,” was attended by county commissioners, mayors, planning and zoning persons, and others.

“I was really proud Chilton County took such an active role that day,” Littleton said.

Future workshops will target citizens and students. They will be sponsored by the Alabama Clean Water Partnership and the aforementioned groups.

A spring project, asking the question, “What’s in your water?” will allow fifth grade teachers to provide materials for a weeklong curriculum. Other workshops will focus on subjects such as septic tank pumping and stream bank management.

For more info, call (205) 669-7136 or 646-0277.