Find out about the Mobile Bay Watershed area in Alabama and what can be done to protect it in this exclusive LoveToKnow Charity interview with Mobile Baykeeper Executive Director, Casi Callaway.
About Mobile Baykeeper
Could you provide a brief history about Mobile Baykeeper?
The organization formed in 1997 as West Bay Watch when a group of concerned citizens joined forces to fight the construction of a chemical facility at the Theodore Industrial Park, along Mobile Bay's western shore. Through investigation of these plants, they discovered that for decades Mobile County's economic leaders had focused their efforts on industrial recruiting. As a result, the pollution amounts led the Environmental Defense Fund to rank Mobile County second in the nation for the presence of chemicals known to be cancer hazards in the Toxics Release Inventory. In 1998 the mission was expanded and the organization's name was changed to Mobile Bay Watch, Inc., to express the reality that air and water quality issues affect the east and west sides of the Bay equally. The volunteers hired a full-time director to serve the growing organization, and increased its membership to over 3,000 people.
In September of 1999, Mobile Bay Watch, Inc. affiliated with the international organization, Waterkeeper Alliance. The Alliance's mission of championing clean water and protecting the watershed's communities, ecosystems, and water quality fit well with the organization's mission of providing citizens the means to protect the beauty, health and heritage of the Mobile Bay watershed. Our executive director assumed the role of Mobile Baykeeper, and the organization became Mobile Bay Watch, Inc./Mobile Baykeeper. In December of 2005, the board of directors voted to change the organization's name to Mobile Baykeeper.
What means of funding does the organization receive?
The organization has a budget of $315,000, and gets 55% of funding from its 3,500 members, as well as through the several fundraisers we hold throughout the year. We also are the recipients of several grants, including one from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which awarded our Stormwater Partnership $200,000 to work on stormwater runoff issues over the next two years.
Why is Mobile Bay so vital to Alabama?
Mobile Bay is Alabama's central estuary system and provides a transitional zone, where the river's freshwater meets tidally influenced marine waters. Estuaries are considered environmentally and economically important because of their exceptional biological diversity and productivity. The estuary also provides flood control, natural filtration buffers for water quality, erosion control, recreation, and beautiful scenery.
The outflow of the Mobile River into Mobile Bay creates a delta and extensive marshlands. There is a vast network of waterways, with a total of over 200 rivers, bays, creeks, bayous, lakes, cutoffs, branches, and sloughs. With a flow of 62,000 cubic feet per second, on average, the Mobile Bay estuary has the fourth largest freshwater flow in the continental United States. Mobile Bay is our history, our economy, our life and our love. It must be preserved for us as well as for future generations.
Mobile Bay Watershed
What are the endangered or threatened species in the watershed area?
Among the many endangered species in the area are gulf sturgeon; many birds, such as the bald eagle, peregrine falcon, piping plover, red cockaded woodpecker and wood stork; reptiles, including the Alabama red-belled turtle, eastern indigo snake, the gopher tortoise and loggerhead sea turtle; mammals, including the Alabama beach Mouse and West Indian Manatee; and many plants, which include the Alabama canebrake pitcher-plant, American chaffseed, Louisiana quillwort, Mohr's, and Barbara's buttons. Those most threatened by local development are the Alabama red-bellied turtle, the eastern indigo snake, the gopher tortoise, and the loggerhead sea turtle.
Does Mobile Baykeeper have other organizations that it partners with?
The organization is a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, which has 186 partners in 19 countries across 7 continents. We are also part of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management Reform Coalition. In addition, we are working with 12 partner agencies within Alabama and four additional regional and national organizations on the Alabama Stormwater Partnership to reduce stormwater runoff into local waterways.
What has been the organization's biggest success?
Our biggest success to date has been preventing an open loop liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility from entering the Mobile Bay area. We stopped Exxon from establishing an onshore facility, and prevented three open loop facilities from entering Mobile Bay. The open loop facilities that have been proposed for Mobile by an assortment of energy providers over the years would have taken in, on average, over 100 million gallons of water a day from the Gulf of Mexico and caused unknown devastation to our fisheries in the process of re-gasifying the natural gas - at each facility.
The organization and its 3,500 members led a successful opposition to these facilities locating in our area. One of the entities seeking to bring a LNG terminal to the Gulf, TORP, has recently brought a closed loop proposal to the area. Therefore, Mobile Baykeeper has done what it set out to do, "Close the Loop on LNG."
What are some things that people can do themselves to protect the watershed?
The most important thing you can do is give locally! Becoming a member of the organization unites us as one voice in addressing issues related to the Mobile Bay Watershed. You can also write letters to politicians and agencies about your commitment to the environment. Check out our website for sample drafts of comment letters. There are also many things we can do in our daily lives to protect Mobile Bay such as using detergents without phosphates, gardening without chemicals and pesticides, and using fewer disposable products.
LoveToKnow Charity would like to thank Casi Callaway for sharing information about Mobile Baykeeper. We wish her and the organization continued success.