Black Warrior Riverkeeper
Black Warrior Riverkeeper is a non-profit environmental group formed as part of the national "Waterkeeper Alliance" in order to patrol and protect the Black Warrior River watershed. It was founded in Fall 2001 by David Whiteside and Roger Conville. The current Executive Director is Nelson Brooke, who also serves in the position of Riverkeeper (primary patroller and spokesperson for the group). Other staff include prosecuting attorney and general counsel Mark Martin, staff attorney John Keeling, program director John Kinney, and director of development Charles Scribner IV. The groups offices are located at 712 37th Street South in Avondale.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper's mission is to protect and restore the Black Warrior River and its tributaries. With the support of nearly 2,000 members, they work to improve water quality, wildlife habitat, recreation, and public health throughout the largest river system entirely contained within Alabama. The Black Warrior River watershed supplies half of Birmingham's drinking water, and all of Tuscaloosa's and many other cities.
Monitoring the Black Warrior watershed, educating the public, and holding major polluters accountable has made Black Warrior Riverkeeper an important proponent of clean water in their patrol area, the entire Black Warrior River watershed. When their patrols by boat, canoe, foot, or plane uncover significant pollution, and the polluter refuses to fix the problem, Black Warrior Riverkeeper pursues litigation. To date they have addressed over 15,000 Clean Water Act violations through legal actions.
Named Alabama’s 2006 Watershed Organization of the year by Alabama Rivers Alliance, and 2007 Conservation Organization of the year by Alabama Environmental Council, Black Warrior Riverkeeper is a member of Waterkeeper Alliance and is governed by a local board of directors.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper has filed notices of intent to sue several polluters under the provisions of the Federal Clean Water Act. In many cases, their actions have prompted regulatory actions by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), at which point Black Warrior Riverkeeper intervenes to ensure diligent prosecution. In all, the group has documented over 15,000 individual violations since 2002 and has helped to successfully force compliance with the Clean Water Act in a number of cases. Quarterly updates on the organization's legal actions is published in the "Legal Docket" page of their newsletters .
Some of the industries which Black Warrior Riverkeeper has opposed with legal actions include:
- Vulcan Materials Bessemer Quarry, for 465 alleged violations of their dumping permit. Black Warrior Riverkeeper filed a motion to appeal a $50,000 penalty negotiated by ADEM in secret. Their standing to appeal was rejected by Judge Bill Shashy.
- East Walker County Sewer Authority Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dora, for 4,473 alleged violations of their dumping permit. ADEM has filed their own complaint, superseding Black Warrior Riverkeeper's Circuit Court filing.
- Cordova Wastewater Treatment Plant in Walker County, for 618 alleged violations of their permit. ADEM filed their own complaint in November 2005, superseding Black Warrior Riverkeeper's Circuit Court filing.
- Brookside Village Wastewater Treatment Plant in Jefferson County, for 1,134 alleged violations of the Clean Water Act for improper discharges into Newfound Creek. Black Warrior Riverkeeper filed notice of intent to sue on May 19, 2006.
- Blountsville HCR Lagoon in Blount County, for 1,797 alleged violation of the Clean Water Act for improper sewage-related discharges into Blue Springs Creek. ADEM entered a consent agreement imposing a fine of $2,400.
- Moundville Wastewater Treatment Plant in Hale County, for 1,486 alleged violations of the Clean Water Act for improper sewage-related discharge directly into the river.
- Donaldson Correctional Facility in Jefferson County, for 1,060 alleged violations of the Clean Water Act for improper sewage-related discharge into the Big Branch of Valley Creek. The Alabama Attorney General's office pre-empted Black Warrior Riverkeeper's federal suit with a state suit, which was settled by negotiation. Donaldson contracted with NOVUS Utility Services of Pelham to construct improvements and operate their wastewater facility, which has had no reported violations since being put into service.
- Sloss Industries, for 500 days of illegal cyanide dumping into Five Mile Creek. Before Black Warrior Riverkeeper's suit could be filed, ADEM stepped in and reached a settlement that involved a $675,000 fine, the dedication of 350+ acres along the creek for public use, and the planting of 25,000 trees. At the time, this was the severest penalty ever levied by ADEM.
In addition to gathering information and assembling evidence for litigation, Black Warrior Riverkeeper issues public comment regarding proposed permits and legislation, such as the Jefferson County Floodplain Management Ordinance, which was rejected in September, 2006. The group also hosts field trips and press briefings, gives presentations and educational programs, and holds frequent fundraisers to promote its mission.
- Herring, Hal (January 3, 2019) "Meet the Riverkeeper: How One Outdoorsman and Conservationist is Working to Protect Alabama’s Black Warrior River." Field & Stream
- Black Warrior Riverkeeper website