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ADEM awarded grant to keep state waterways clean

The Alabama Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) on Thursday received a $500,000 competitive grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to further its efforts to keep trash out of state waterways and prevent it from entering the Gulf of Mexico.

ADEM’s “Help Keep Our Waterways Clean” litter abatement initiative was among 17 projects to receive one of the EPA’s 2020 Trash-Free Waters grants in the Southeastern U.S.

“ADEM has a long history of fostering good stewardship of the Gulf’s vast natural resources,” said ADEM Director Lance LeFleur. “This grant will help the department preserve, enhance and develop the area’s resources for present and future generations of Alabamians.”

The project is designed to promote awareness about watershed and reduce pollution entering waterways that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, with a goal of engaging communities “in the fight against litter through education and outreach that encourage the use of voluntary and sustainable best practices.”

“We want to inspire and empower our citizens through their voluntary actions to help prevent litter from even reaching our waterways,” LeFleur said. “This project will both educate them about the important of our rivers, streams and other bodies of water and create opportunities for them to actually get involved in efforts to prevent and collect litter.”

Among the features of the program will be the placement of signs along interstates across the state to inform motorist that they are entering a watershed and encourage them not to litter.

Additionally, colorful metal sculptures of water life, such as fish, turtles and water birds, will mark litter collection sites at rest areas and other locations along state interstates and elsewhere.

Another important aspect of the program is the emphasis on education, which will have ADEM reaching out to disadvantaged communities to promote anti-littering messages and educate the public on the important of good watershed health, with specific locations and schools set to be targeted.

Along with ADEM, the City of Mobile and the Freshwater Land Trust received EPA grants.

“The EPA has over 50 partnership projects across the country as part of our Trash-Free Waters Program, which focuses on preventing trash from reaching waterways in the first place,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “These 17 recipients will target the Gulf of Mexico region for cleanup, trash prevention and education. Preventing trash from entering the waterways will have an immediate impact on the gulf’s ecosystem.”

According to the EPA, the majority of the trash that eventually become marine debris is common trash from consumer goods, such as plastics, which are an “increasing concern because of their persistence and effect on the environment, wildlife and human health.”

About 80 percent of plastics come from land-based sources carried by both wind and water.

“This isn’t a one-time deal,” LeFleur said, noting that the project will be a “continuing effort” for the department. “We want to promote long-term, sustainable, voluntary practices to reduce this form of pollution, which fouls Alabama waterways, spoils nature’s beauty and harms aquatic life. This grant [helps] jump start those efforts.”