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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Alabama: Flint Creek Watershed Project: Multiagency Effort Results in Water Quality Improvements

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Brad Bole, Project Coordinator
3120 Highway 36 West
Hartselle, AL 35640
256-773-6543 (ext. 107)
Primary Sources of Pollution:

agriculture (dairy)
Primary NPS Pollutants:


fecal coliform bacteria
Project Activities:

agricultural BMPs (dry stacks, dead bird composters, no-till farming, heavy use areas for feeding, stream crossings)

riparian zone management


decrease in fecal coliform counts, nitrate concentrations, turbidity, and ammonia concentrations

decline in duckweed/algae blooms


The Flint Creek watershed is in southeast Lawrence County and western Morgan County in Alabama. The creek is listed as a priority water body for agricultural nonpoint source pollution and is documented as having at least 25 miles of impaired surface water due to nutrients, organic enrichment, and pathogens originating from animal holding and management areas, feedlots, dairies, and other nonpoint sources. The water quality problems were so severe that a local water supply on Flint Creek was forced to abandon an intake and water treatment facility as a result of excess nutrients.

Multiagency effort

The Flint Creek Watershed Project is a multiagency cooperative effort led by local leaders and watershed residents. In 1994 a Watershed Conservancy District was established, and plans were developed with the assistance of five federal agencies, five Alabama state agencies, and three local soil and water conservation districts. Sources of funding for the project activities included section 319 grants, U.S. Department of Agriculture programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program and the Water Quality Incentive Program, Soil and Water Conservation District cost-share funds, and corporate donations.

A variety of projects were implemented in the watershed, including poultry, beef cattle, and cropland demonstrations; well sampling programs; on-site wastewater demonstrations; and riparian zone management efforts. Agricultural best management practices implemented included installing dry stacks and dead bird composters, promoting no-till farming and heavy use areas for feeding, and constructing stream crossings for cattle.

Outreach activities were conducted frequently in the watershed. The annual Flint Creek Wet & Wild Festival, for example, brought together more than 800 students in 1999. Other projects included a household hazardous waste day, pesticide amnesty day, and volunteer monitoring programs.

Water quality improvements

Improvements in fecal coliform counts have been documented at 11 of the 13 sampling sites. In addition, nitrate concentrations have decreased over time at three sites, turbidity has decreased at two sites, and ammonia concentrations have decreased downstream of a sewage lagoon. Although no benefit to dissolved oxygen has been documented to date, the decline of duckweed and algae blooms in Flint Creek demonstrates that the health of the watershed is improving.

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Tuscumbia-Fort Payne Aquifer Protection Program:
Multiagency, Cooperative Approach Protects Aquifer


Enid Probst
Alabama Department of Environmental Management
P.O. Box 301463
Montgomery, AL 36130
Primary Sources of Pollution:

agriculture (farming)

failing septic systems
Primary NPS Pollutants:



fecal coliform bacteria
Project Activities:

aquifer assessments

education/outreach programs

assessment of all 14 water systems outreach to more than 3 million people

outreach to more than 3 million people

One of the fastest-growing regions in Alabama is the Tennessee River Valley. This area is also one of the state's most rapidly developing areas in agricultural production (cotton and corn), recreation, and industry. The expanding economic base has led to suburban expansion into rural areas, resulting in more diverse nonpoint sources of pollution and more land coverage by impervious surfaces. As a result, one of the state's major aquifers, the Tuscumbia-Fort Payne Aquifer, was showing signs of stress due to contamination from surface sources.

The Highland Rim Physiographic Region of the state, in which the aquifer is located, includes six counties with roughly 4,500 square miles within the Tennessee River drainage basin. About 1.3 million pounds and 146,102 gallons of pesticides and herbicides are applied in the area yearly, causing major concern about the drinking water supplies throughout the region. Sampling results indicate that there is localized contamination in the Highland Rim Physiographic Region: 33 percent of wells and 32 percent of springs tested positive for pesticides, indicating that pesticides are entering the subterranean channel system that discharges into surface water bodies. Fecal coliform bacteria from poorly maintained on-site wastewater treatment systems are also a concern.

Multiagency project

The Tuscumbia-Fort Payne Aquifer Protection Program involved a multiagency cooperative approach. Alabama's Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) received partnership support from the Geological Survey of Alabama, the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Commission, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, the Alabama Department of Public Health, EPA, and the Tennessee Valley Authority, as well as 17 municipal and 6 county governments. Financial support for the program came from EPA's 319 grant program, which funded all aspects of the program.

The purpose of the aquifer protection program was to create a comprehensive program that would provide the maximum aquifer protection, given the regulatory limitations of community and county authorities. The program incorporated various state programs and developed a strategy for groundwater protection through cooperative efforts. The strategies for aquifer protection were to technically assess the aquifer and its characteristics, to assess the nonpoint sources of contamination (such as agricultural applications of chemicals and improperly maintained septic systems), and to create educational programs based on the technical data.

Technical strategy

Madison County's Wellhead Protection Program provided a framework for the technical strategy. That program had previously delineated recharge areas for 6 of the 14 water systems in the Highland Rim Region. The Geological Survey of Alabama delineated the recharge areas for the remaining eight water systems in the study area.

Water level and geologic field mapping, as well as dye tracing studies, were used to determine the flow boundaries and characteristics of each well or spring. After the recharge areas were identified, a comprehensive potential contaminant source inventory was conducted to identifiy all potential or existing sources of point and nonpoint contamination that could impair groundwater quality. Nonpoint sources of particular importance are sink holes, abandoned wells, residential septic systems, and agricultural fields under production.

Based on the potential contaminant inventory, the University of West Alabama conducted a pilot study in Lauderdale County to determine the relationship between on-site sewage treatment systems and bacteria in well water. One hundred homeowners voluntarily participated in a survey that collected information on characteristics and maintenance of the on-site system, factors related to water usage, and environmental information that could be related to fecal coliform contamination. Of the 100 wells and springs examined, 32 percent were found to contain fecal coliform bacteria. An examination of well depth indicated a possible relationship to the probability of contamination. It was found that 56.3 percent of the shallow wells were contaminated and that there was a very high probability of contamination (83 percent) when drainfield lines ran toward the well as compared to 23 percent probability for drainfield lines that ran away from the well.

Educational campaign

The foundation for protection of the aquifer and the identified recharge areas was a regional educational campaign developed to create public and private partnerships and instill a sense of responsibility for their drinking water quality in the local residents.

A pilot Groundwater Festival was held in Madison County in 1998, and more than 1,200 fourth-grade students participated. Following the successful pilot, festivals were held in three other counties. Each festival was unique, depending on the needs of the county and its schools. The festival organizing committees consisted of public water system personnel, Cooperative Extension agents, NRCS agents, regional planning and county commission representatives, local nongovernmental organizations, and school system representatives. The county organizing committees remain intact, and the festivals have continued annually. In spring 2000 approximately 5,000 fourth graders and their teachers attended a Groundwater Festival in the Tennessee Valley area.

A Cooperative Extension outreach program was also designed to introduce both urban and rural residents to the source of their drinking and irrigation water, as well as programs and practices that can protect groundwater. The Cooperative Extension System worked with ADEM and NRCS to implement the program. Public presentations and public service announcements were the primary methods of presenting information. Other materials created for the effort included a slide show, a tabletop display, brochures, a karst groundwater flow model, and questionnaires similar to the Farm, Home, and Business*A*Syst Program questionnaires.

Over the span of 3 years, the agents published 24 newspaper articles and aired 31 radio spots and 7 TV programs. A 30-minute program describing the Wellhead Protection Program was aired on the local CBS station. Presentations were made at farmers' meetings such as the annual cotton and corn producers meetings, the county fair, Master Gardener classes, Pesticide Safety Programs, Rotary clubs, home and garden shows, and 4-H clubs. In addition, self-help booklets and questionnaires were distributed to businesses and organizations. The Cooperative Extension System estimates that more than 3 million people were reached during the 3 years of the media campaign.

The aquifer protection program showed what can happen when many agencies join forces to protect a vulnerable groundwater resource. State, federal, and local agencies collaborated to define the aquifer characteristics and flow conditions in the area and to use this information to build successful educational and outreach programs.

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