The Alabama Department of Environmental Management proposed the fine Friday, saying the city has been in violation of the agency’s stormwater management permit for more than a year. City officials say they are doing all they can to comply with ADEM — from telling residents what they can do help fix the problem to rewriting Anniston's stormwater management plan.
"We've known about this for a while and we're taking steps," said City Manager Brian Johnson. "We will be able to meet all of the requirements."
The city has 180 days to comply with ADEM's requirements. Residents have 30 days to comment on the city's stormwater issues.
"We will then review everything after the public comments and then make a final decision on whether to issue the fine," said Scott Hughes, spokesman for ADEM.
According to ADEM, Anniston last year submitted a stormwater management plan that did not meet all the requirements of its permit, issued to the city in 2011. Federal law requires municipalities to have a stormwater permit and management plan to protect the environment.
"Stormwater is one of the leading causes of water quality issues in Alabama and across the nation," Hughes said.
Hughes said the city must implement several minimum control measures for its stormwater management plan to be in compliance. Among those is conducting better public education and outreach measures to teach residents and businesses about the importance of stormwater management.
"It's things like, why you shouldn't use too much fertilizer in your yard or change the oil of your car in your driveway," Hughes said.
Johnson said the city is creating brochures to educate residents about stormwater management and will link information about the issue to the city's website.
Other efforts by the city include updating construction and stormwater ordinances and improving inspection practices of stormwater structures and public facilities.
"They have to check to make sure there aren't any industry discharges going into the storm sewer," Hughes said. "It has to go into the sewer system and be treated."
Johnson added that the city is rewriting its entire stormwater management plan to ensure it's in compliance.
"We're not just adding in a few things to make ADEM happy," Johnson said.
Anniston's efforts to meet ADEM stormwater requirements are part of a greater plan to improve the city's drainage system. At a retreat with the Anniston City Council last month, Johnson told council members that the city drainage system was a "ticking time bomb" and deteriorating rapidly.
"It's just been easy for the city to ignore because it's all underground," Johnson said.
But while stormwater drainage problems cannot always be seen, they can seriously hurt area waterways and the environment over time, said Frank Chitwood of Coosa Riverkeeper, a local conservation group.
"Management of stormwater is important to protecting our streams," Chitwood said.
Chitwood said stormwater creates erosion, and it floods waterways with trash, mud and sediments. When there is too much mud in rivers, it can clog and damage the gills of the fish there, he said.
"By controlling stormwater runoff ... there is a lot less restoration or conservation work to be done," Chitwood said.
Nelson Brooke, riverkeeper with the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, said proper municipal stormwater management plans protect waterways from pollutants, such as oil, gasoline, tires and debris from cars. Brooke said runoff from tar roofs on homes can also end up in waterways if not properly managed.
"Stormwater management programs are extremely important in keeping streams clean and people downstream safe," Brooke said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.