State Rep. Joe Faust of Fairhope, who has indicated he may not run for reelection in 2022, is using his 20 years of legislative experience to organize a statewide clean water initiative, according to people with knowledge of the plan. A group known as “Clean Water Alabama” is currently seeking nonprofit status and aims to begin a statewide discussion on water quality with the goal of ultimately passing policy for reforms.
John Manelos, a former Fairhope mayoral candidate who campaigned on curbing the pollution that is currently spoiling Mobile Bay, said the effort began about a year and a half ago with discussion regarding the Eastern Shore. But by late 2020, residents of Weeks Bay and beyond provided input, and Faust took charge to bring local and statewide elected officials into the mix.
“For a while, it seemed like everybody was sitting around waiting for someone else to solve the problem,” Manelos said. “There are a lot of specific groups that address the problem in their own niche ways, but we still have problems. Eventually, we decided there has to be some kind of political solution; there has to be something that protects water more than we’re doing now.”
Faust, who did not respond to a request for comment before press time, reportedly has bent the ear of Gov. Kay Ivey’s Chief of Staff Jo Bonner, Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon and Secretary of State John Merrill.
“It’s really been his effort,” Manelos said. “He’s calling his political contacts to try to get attention around it.”
Manelos said the group has a rather broad mission statement to engage the citizens of Alabama to take “necessary action” to ensure waterways are protected from pollutants and degradation.
“The first step is to educate citizens and elected officials on the current threats, then to organize representatives to identify the primary threats and determine what action can be taken to mitigate them,” he said. “Ultimately, we hope to develop proposed policy and for outcomes to address the problem at the state level.”
Local environmental journalist, author and filmmaker Ben Raines has participated in the discussion and allegedly, Faust purchased 150 copies of Raines’s book, “Saving America’s Amazon: The Threat to Our Nation’s Most Biodiverse River System.”
“I’m not really in tune with what they [Clean Water Alabama] are doing, but our water issues are dramatic,” Raines said. “Alabama needs a water management plan that governs usage. We have archaic rules in place where we don’t regulate our water resources in any responsible way. The last drought we had, the rivers ran dry because people are allowed to suck up every last drop. We get in these situations where companies are granted the right to water and they use and abuse every bit of it. Reducing the flows dramatically can be a killing blow and that doesn’t even take into account all the pollutants.”
Alabama allows companies to measure runoff and wastewater outfalls downstream of their sources, leading to unreliable pollution reports.
“We are using our rivers as industrial sewage treatment plants to the point that now, we have dead zones in Mobile Bay and Wolf Bay from nutrient pollution,” he said. “I’ve always thought it would take a crisis for the Legislature to act — maybe more than one — but not until people are really upset. I applaud any of our legislators who want to try and protect our water resources and I will try to help in any way I can. It’s time. That’s the theme of ‘Saving America’s Amazon.’ We can’t keep doing the things the way they have been done.”
Manelos said there has been talk about convincing Ivey to appoint a task force to study the problem.
“We’re hoping that’s what comes of it, and a committee in the State Legislature involving all stakeholders to study what we can do,” he said. “It is starting out broad, but as we move down the road, we haven’t met with one group that hasn’t offered support. In the end, a lot will depend on people’s commitment.”
In comments to Gulf Coast Newspapers, Faust said despite the involvement of elected officials, it would remain a citizen-driven effort.
“I think that mainly we’re going to be stronger environmentally with our rivers and bays and Gulf when we get through with this thing,” Faust said. “We’re involving every elected official we can think of, but they’re not the ones that are going to do this, it’s the people.”
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