Hurricane Dorian’s landfalls in the Bahamas and North Carolina have reminded us how important it is to prepare for big storms.
FOX10 News is exploring what the South Alabama region is doing to prepare for the next big storm. Roberta Swann is the Director of the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, a place-based non-regulatory program of the EPA. Swann joined us in the studio during FOX10 News at 4 pm to talk about some of the ways Mobile Bay National Estuary Program is working to make the area more resilient to large hurricanes and storm events.
Mobile Bay NEP is involved in a range of activities including education, films, community involvement, watershed planning, and actually going into the community and physically addressing some of the problems uncovered in the planning process.
One big project Mobile Bay NEP recently completed is restoring the Tip of Mon Louis Island at the Mouth of Fowl River. That tip of Mon Louis Island at the tip of Fowl River has seen significant erosion over the last 100 years the effect of storm surge, winds, and waves.
It became apparent that if nothing was done, the tip would erode completely away, leaving the Pelican reef, and the entire Fowl River Community much more vulnerable to storms. Mobile Bay NEP decided to restore the tip to its 1995 footprint, and in the process were able to dredge the mouth of the river thus adding acres of additional marsh habitat for important marine species, but also provide a buffer from storms.
Much of Daphne and Spanish Fort is quite high in elevation, so storm surge is not nearly as important to address as rain. With the hurricanes, we often get 20, 30 inches of rain in a very short amount of time. Add to that all the development that occurred in the Daphne area, the sleep slopes and highly erodible soil, the area can end up with some fast moving water in much larger volumes than D’Olive creek and the other streams in the area can handle.
There was one area of Joe’s Branch behind the Piggly Wiggly where the erosion was so severe it threatened houses in Westminster Village and Highway 31.
Mobile Bay NEP was able to bring together a range of partners to construct retention ponds, a step pool conveyance system to slow down all that water. With the success of the Joe’s branch project, Mobile Bay NEP completed 8 other projects in the area, including a section of D’Olive Creek between Hwy 90 and I-10, a section of Tiawasee creek.
What goes into the design of these projects?
Mobile Bay NEP tells Fox 10 News, "We recognize it’s impractical to restore these creeks to how they used to be before development, but just pouring in a bunch of concrete, can exacerbate the problem downstream.
So we use a mixture of rock and hardening, so we can restore the ecological function of the stream while handling the extra storm water that the area will get from hurricanes or other major rain events. We do this by raising the creek beds, connecting the stream to its floodplain, using rocks to armor and stabilize the creek banks and using logs and rock veins to slow the flow of water."
Mobile Bay NEP has also created educational components to help make the area more resilient. Representatives say, "Last year we released a film about Dauphin Island. It’s called The Flight of the Frigate Bird: An Omen of Rising Seas, and it not only shares some of the oral history of what it was like to live on the barrier island before a bridge was built to the island in the 50s, but also how those islanders had so much knowledge about barrier island dynamics. They knew the safest places to build their houses, they knew what to expect during a hurricane.
As the Island faces some difficult questions about how to spend their limited resources on preparing and responding to storms, It’s really important to listen to the wisdom of those who know the island best."