Fish Kill Updates

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Fish Kill at Gorgas Steam Plant on June 16


On June 16, fishermen informed Black Warrior Riverkeeper of a large fish kill at Alabama Power’s Gorgas Steam Plant on the Mulberry Fork of the Black Warrior River at its confluence with Baker’s Creek.  We investigated that day, took pictures, created a map of the fish kill site, and reported our findings to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), which led the fish kill investigation that morning. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) arrived later that afternoon to begin their own investigation.

On June 22, we emailed ADEM again to check on their investigation. This was their response:

“At this time we are still compiling information, which includes laboratory analytical data, related to our investigation of the recent fish kill at Baker Creek/Mulberry Fork. Once we have compiled and validated all of our data we will produce a final report that we will upload to our e-FILE system. All documents pertaining to this event will be accessible in e-FILE by selecting “Water” as the media, using 8033 (Emergency Response Number) as the “Permit Number”, and by selecting “Walker County”. Any additional documents we receive from other agencies, such as the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, will also be placed in this location. Once all of the information has been compiled and reviewed, the Department will make a determination on our ability to identify a responsible party and determine if any enforcement actions are warranted. We are currently directing all media calls to Jerome Hand (ADEM Spokesman) and until all of our information is compiled/reviewed he will be serving as the single point of contact for the Department.”

On June 24, ADEM realized they had provided the wrong Emergency Response Number and emailed us the correction:

“I need to clarify one piece of information I provided to you earlier this week.  I instructed you to use 8033 as the Permit Number to access information related to the fish kill but it should actually be 8673.  All of the other instructions should be correct. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you all and I ask that you please share this corrected information with all of your members.”

On June 27, we checked ADEM’s e-FILE system again, using the corrected Emergency Response Number (8673), and saw that while there was still not a completed report, there were some water sampling results posted. Two separate data sets available in ADEM’s initial documentation of the incident indicate that the discharge from the Gorgas Steam Plant to Baker’s Creek was the origin of poor quality water, extremely low in dissolved oxygen.  We asked ADEM followup questions about the data sets but never received answers.

On June 29, ADEM had still not answered our followup questions from June 27, but their e-FILE system system finally had a new (third) document on it called “ADEM Pollution Incident Report.” Two full weeks after the incident, this new addition contains no new information regarding the cause, responsible party, or remedy for the fish kill.

On July 1, ADEM called us back at 2:45pm to confirm that they had gotten our messages and were still trying to get us answers to our questions about the water sampling results we found on their e-FILE system on June 27.  Meanwhile, there were no new documents on e-FILE today.  There are still three documents in that public file, none of which are conclusive.

On July 5, ADEM uploaded two new documents to their e-FILE system (there are now five fish kill documents overall). Both files included results from the June 16 site investigation by Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR).  The links to those reports may be found here and here.  ADCNR states that although the sample area of the investigation was 26 acres of the Bankhead Reservoir, dead fish were found in the Gorgas Steam Plant discharge canal and no dead fish were found upstream of the discharge canal.  Upstream of the Gorgas discharge canal dissolved oxygen was measured at a healthy 9.2 mg/l and the observed water clarity was normal.  In the discharge canal, dissolved oxygen was 3.5 mg/l and the water was turbid.  According to ADCNR, the number of fish they “…were able to enumerate was substantially reduced due to a tug boat coming through the kill area causing many of the dead fish to sink.” At 4:45 p.m., we emailed questions to ADEM about this latest information, asking what their next steps will be.

On July 7, ADEM’s e-FILE system had been updated with a new (sixth) document called ADEM Final Report. Three full weeks after the fish kill, this document contains no new information regarding the cause, responsible party, or remedy for the fish kill. While the report does contain ADEM’s expanded water sampling results, it appears that ADEM failed to collect any data for oil and grease (O&G) or organic chemicals, despite the fact that their inspector documented a noticeable oil sheen on the river. We called ADEM today with questions about this document and the process. They informed us that while the emergency response process is closed, they continue to investigate the fish kill’s cause and responsible party.

On July 14, ADEM has updated their e-FILE system with this statement by Alabama Power which denies any responsibility for the June 16 fish kill. The document contains no new information regarding the cause, responsible party, or remedy for the fish kill.  ADEM has informed us that they continue to investigate the fish kill’s cause and responsible party.

On July 20, ADEM’s e-File system was updated with a new (eighth) document called “Memorandum: Baker Creek/Mulberry Fork Fish Kill Response.” This document offers little new information about the fish kill, nor does it identify a responsible party or any remedy.  We have asked for additional information from the investigating agencies.  Stay tuned for updates.

If you have questions or concerns about ADEM’s fish kill investigation, contact Jerome Hand: [email protected] or 334-260-4545.  Stay tuned for updates here and on our Facebook and Twitter pages.  Until further notice, we do not recommend eating fish caught near the Gorgas Steam Plant.

We appreciate the media keeping this investigation in the public eye.  Here are some highlights: Alabama Power ‘confident’ its plant didn’t cause Black Warrior fish kill

Southeast Green: ADEM Slow to Report on Fish Kill at Southern Company’s Subsidiary Alabama Power Gorgas Steam Plant State agencies investigating fish kill on Black Warrior River

NBC 13: Dozens of fish found dead along Black Warrior River



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