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Prison Drinking Water and Wastewater Pollution Threaten Environmental Safety Nationwide

By John E. Dannenberg - Prison Legal News, November 15, 2017

Aging infrastructure concerns are not limited to America's highways, bridges and dams. Today, crumbling, overcrowded prisons and jails nationwide are bursting at the seams -- literally -- leaking environmentally dangerous effluents not just inside prisons, but also into local rivers, water tables and community water supplies. Because prisons are inherently detested and ignored institutions, the hidden menace of pollution from them has stayed below the radar. In this report, PLN exposes the magnitude and extent of the problem from data collected over the past several years from seventeen states.

Alabama

The Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC) has been ignoring complaints of wastewater pollution from its prisons since 1991. Back then, the problem was limited to leaking sewage from the St. Clair prison. Although the Alabama Legislature promised to provide the $2.3 million needed to build a new wastewater treatment plant that would match St. Clair's vastly expanded population, no money has been appropriated.

Today, the problem has grown statewide and includes pollution from ADOC's Draper, Elmore, Fountain/Holman, Limestone prisons and the Farcquhar Cattle Ranch and Red Eagle Honor Farm. The problem has drawn the ire of the private watchdog group, Black Warrior Riverkeeper (BWR) and of the state Attorney General (AG), both of whom have filed lawsuits against ADOC. The AG's office claims ADOC is violating the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act (Act) by dumping raw sewage into Little Canoe Creek, from which it flows into the Coosa River. The AG has demanded that ADOC fix the problems and pay fines for the damage they have caused. All parties acknowledge that the problems stem from ADOC's doubling of its population to 28,000, while the wastewater treatment facilities were designed for less than half that number.

The environmental damage is huge. ADOC is pumping extremely high levels of toxic ammonia, fecal coliform, viruses, and parasites into local streams and rivers. When raw sewage hits clean water, it sucks up the available dissolved oxygen to aid decomposition. But in so doing, it asphyxiates aquatic plants and animals that depend on that oxygen.
Telltale disaster signs include rising water temperatures and the appearance of algae blooms. The pollution renders public waterways unfit for human recreation as well.

BWR notes in its suit that Donaldson State Prison has committed 1,060 violations of the Clean Water Act since 1999, dumping raw sewage into Big Branch and Valley creeks, and thence into the Black Warrior River. BWR seeks fines for the violations, which could range from $100 to $25,000 each. Peak overflows were documented at 808,000 gallons in just one day, which isn't surprising for a wastewater treatment plant designed to handle a maximum of 270,000 gallons per day. Donaldson, designed to hold only 990 prisoners, has 1,500 today.

One path to reformation was found in turning over wastewater treatment to privately-run local community water treatment districts. Donaldson came into compliance with its wastewater permit after contracting with Alabama Utility Services in 2005. Limestone and other ADOC prisons are now seeking privatization solutions.

Jersey Open Space Measure Cannibalizes Parks & Eco-Programs: Zeros Out Park Maintenance Money and Forces Layoffs in Waste & Water Programs

By Kirsten Stade - Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, October 6, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Trenton — A November ballot measure would amend the New Jersey constitution to siphon $10 billion out of park facilities maintenance as well as toxic site cleanup and state water infrastructure over the next 30 years solely to finance real estate purchases for open space. Billed as a “green” proposition, it would devastate bread and butter environmental programs while lining the pockets of some key proponents, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

With little debate about the impacts of the diversion of funds, the New Jersey Legislature placed a proposed constitutional amendment, the Open Space Preservation Funding Amendment, Public Question No. 2 on the November 4, 2014 ballot. It would direct a portion of corporate business tax revenues to open space, farmland and historic preservation from 2016 to 2045. To pay for that reallocation it would end the current dedication of corporate business tax revenues to environmental programs. Specifically it would:

  • Strip State Parks & Historic Sites of their current ability to fund capital projects, such as building or repairing restrooms, roads, bridges and other projects. Dedicated funding would fall from $32 million per year to zero. There is currently a $400 million backlog of repairs, new construction and improvements to existing facilities in state parks and historic sites;
  • Cut funding for state water resources programs and projects by two thirds, from $15 million a year currently down to $5 million; and
  • Slash hazardous waste cleanup programs by more than half, from the current $53 million a year to $25 million.

“This is utterly irresponsible eco-policy cynically masquerading as an investment in our future,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, pointing out that it will likely trigger layoffs of state Department of Environmental Protection staff working in both waste and water programs. “Green Acres and open space preservation are good ideas but not to the exclusion of everything else.”

The measure is touted as a rebuke to the Christie administration which has allowed open space funds to run dry. This retaliatory diversion of funds locked into the state constitution smacks of overkill, however.

Ironically, after new open spaces are purchased they are usually handed over to State Parks to maintain, creating an ever-growing unfunded backlog. Adding insult to injury, some of the new open space funding would support “Stewardship” schemes that include commercial logging of state lands. In addition, a portion of funds may be used for salaries and expenses of groups that arrange open space purchases.

“This measure subsidizes a galling amount of self-dealing real estate deals” added Wolfe, noting that supporters label themselves the “Keep It Green Coalition.” “Some Keep It Green members are also focused on the green in their wallets.”

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