RECLAIMING ESLAVA CREEK: From Mismanagement to Excellence

day-4-eslava

Day Four

Embarking on the fourth day of our journey down Eslava Creek, News 5 Assignment Editor Brad Gunther and I put the kayaks in near the Greyhound bus station on Government Boulevard.

“Wow! you can see straight down to the bottom!” I say, realizing this is the clearest  water we’ve seen so far.

“That’s a nice size bass!” Brad points out with his paddle.

As Jim Johnson flies a drone camera overhead, the clear water glistens in the sun, but we all know that during heavy rain storms, Eslava Creek is sometimes clouded with sewer spills. It’s a major issue Mobile Area Water and Sewer System ( MAWSS) Director Charles Hyland wants to fix.

“We are dealing with an aging infrastructure, and when we have heavy rainfalls, we do have sanitary sewer overflows that get into Eslava Creek,” Hyland said. “We’re making progress, but we still have a ways to go. As long as we have overflows that get into the creek, obviously, we’re not satisfied. We want to work toward reducing that.”

He said while they have plenty of work to do on their end, customers should look at their own aging pipes too. “If people can make sure their sewer lines are in good shape that run from their house out to the street to where our line is. And one way they can do that is to make sure their sewer clean-out cap is in good condition and properly installed. ”

Doug Cote, Assistant Director of Operations at MAWS, said people may not realize it, but improving conditions on Eslava Creek is on their priority list.

“We’re actually studying it very closely,” Cote said, explaining that they’re taking three different approaches towards a solution, not just for Eslava Creek, but  for their entire service area.

First, Cote said they want to look at the aging pipes underground to refit or replace the ones that are leaking or  having issues.

“When we talk about infrastructure,we’re talking about systems that have values in the hundreds of millions of dollars,”Cote said. “When we talk about renewing infrastructure, we’re talking about very large costs and looking at it long term.”

In the more short-term future, Cote said they’re looking at expanding some of the storage capabilities for the water flowing through their pipes, so the system isn’t overwhelmed when stormwater floods in during heavy rain storms.

“Where I see us in three years is hopefully having constructed some major changes in sewer capacity and also storage,” Cote said.

Cote said at the upper end of Eslava Creek, where Brad and I first started our journey, they’re already starting ‘smoke tests’ to see where they need to expand their storage or make other adjustments.

The final step in their solution is to bring in outside help to conduct a study over all of their assets throughout the service area.

” We’re going to be bringing in the best minds and engineers in the country,” Cote said. “Mobile Area Water and Sewer is on a track to do some really good things in regard to reducing SSOs (Sanitary Sewer Overflows)”

 

As Brad and I continue paddling, it’s comforting to think the creek is becoming a priority, not just for MAWSS, but the City of Mobile as well.

“When Mayor Stimpson first stepped into office, ADEM actually said we were the posterchild for storm water mismanagement,” city spokesperson Laura Byrne said. “We know that we have a long way to our goal, but our goal is to be the posterchild of storm water excellence.”

Byrne said the city recently approved a design contract to outfit many of the open  storm drains we’ve seen with catch basins.

“If you put a catch basin in it {storm drain} then some of the muck that comes through there will be caught, and they’ll be cleaned out on a regular basis,” Byrne said. Designing a solution is one thing, but funding it? That’s something that will have to come further downstream.

“This has to remain a focus. This has to remain a priority. We know from a city perspective that it’s a priority for us, but it also needs to be a priority for the entire community,” Byrne said. “We want the entire community to rally behind the fact that we want to be a cleaner city and a thriving city because of that.”

From Holcombe Avenue to McVay, Brad and I are on our own. There aren’t any major roads lining the creek for photojournalist Jason Garcia to travel, so our only company is the drone that buzzes overhead.

It’s the only buzzing we’ve heard this entire trip, which strikes us as odd because we thought we’d have to battle the mosquitos along the way.

Turns out, mosquitos don’t thrive in Eslava Creek, according to Jerry Folse at Mobile County Health Department’s Vector Control

“We’ve looked at it throughout the years and couldn’t find anything,” Folse said.

He points out that all the minnows we’ve seen zipping around the surface feed on mosquitos.

“We actually, in years past, have gone to portions of Eslava Creek and some of the other bodies of water and caught minnows to help in our mosquito control,” Folse said.

Afte what seems like hours, Brad and I finally see the tall  pillars of the litter trap, a sign we finally made it to McVay where we can pull the kayaks out.

The creek may be a working progress, but the litter trap is one milestone you can see that shows promise of one day reclaiming Eslava Creek.

 

 

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