TCNP Blog and News

JeffCo H20:Taking a 180 on Stormwater

For thousands of years, stormwater has been viewed as something that needs to be carried away from inhabited areas as quickly as possible to prevent potential hazards such as flooding. While most ancient drainage systems handled both waste and stormwater, the first known drainage system built to handle just stormwater was constructed by the Indus civilization which thrived in the Indus River Valley from about 2300 to 1300 BC.
Fast forward to modern times. While modern stormwater drainage systems are effective in removing stormwater from paved areas and carrying this untreated water directly to local waterways, there are some unintended consequences. Many US communities have experienced a significant increase in development which has placed a disproportionate burden on existing infrastructure. This growth also means that the amount of impervious surfaces such as paved areas and roofs have increased as well, disrupting one of the natural functions of land which is to allow stormwater to soak into the ground. This important function recharges groundwater and replenishes streams during dry periods. This reduction in opportunities for stormwater to infiltrate has resulted in a dramatic increase in the amount and velocity of runoff traveling through the storm drainage system and entering rivers, creeks, lakes, streams and oceans. Since anything on the ground (oil, grease, yard chemicals, pet waste, litter, etc.) can be picked up by stormwater and washed into the stormwater drainage system, stormwater pollution has become the number one pollutant in our nation’s waterways.
Many older communities also are experiencing costly issues with deteriorating and insufficient infrastructure to manage the increasing stormwater demands placed upon it. These economic realities as well as federal water quality guidelines have encouraged them to rethink the old model of getting rid of stormwater as quickly as possible and explore some new approaches. And faced with changing weather patterns which continue to bring more severe storms, heat, floods, and drought, states, regions, and communities are looking for ways to more efficiently manage stormwater and utilize it as a resource rather than a liability.

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One approach is introducing green infrastructure into the built environment. Unlike traditional gray infrastructure that consists of concrete and metal systems that carry stormwater away, green infrastructure minimizes impervious areas to keep and treat stormwater on site by providing it with opportunities to soak into the ground or by using containment techniques such as cisterns or rain barrels to capture and store it for later use. Green infrastructure is a component of an approach to land development or re-development called Low Impact Development (LID) which incorporates ways to manage stormwater on site into project designs. Green infrastructure reduces the amount of polluted runoff entering waterways by dealing with it where it occurs. It also allows the infrastructure to have more capacity to handle stormwater, thereby reducing flooding issues. Some examples of how these principles are being used by communities and developers include: removing curbs and gutters from roadways to allow rainwater to
soak into vegetated areas along the roads; replacing traditional pavement with permeable options so that stormwater can soak through and into the ground rather than run off; creating rain gardens and vegetated areas to slow down, filter, and infiltrate stormwater; planting trees to absorb stormwater, improve air quality, and reduce heat islands in urban areas; installing cisterns and rain barrels to capture rainwater flowing off structures so that it can be stored and used for irrigation at a later time; planting green roofs on structures to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff leaving the roofs as well as reduce heating and cooling costs. While it is difficult to quantify improvements that green infrastructure contributes to community quality of life, studies have shown that there is a definite positive economic value to implementing green infrastructure practices.
Many green infrastructure concepts can be implemented on a smaller scale for very little cost or no cost at your home. Since stormwater pollution comes from every home, street, business, and community throughout our area, every little bit of prevention that is implemented can help make a positive difference in our local waterways. Here are a few ideas to tap into the value of stormwater at your home using green infrastructure:

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 Install a rain barrel and save money by using the collected water to irrigate your yard or garden. Just ½ inch of rain can fill a typical 50 – 55 gallon rain barrel. (Jefferson County averages 54 inches of rain each year, so do the math!)

Rain garden
 Create a rain garden in a low area of your yard and install water loving native plants like aster, black eyed Susan, and coneflower. This is a relatively inexpensive yet highly efficient feature which can absorb up to 40% more rain water than turfgrass alone.
 Plant a tree. One large tree can absorb up to 100 gallons of water per day, reduce home heating and cooling costs, and remove 13 pounds of carbon from the air each year.
 Allow areas of your yard to remain natural, and use pavers or gravel for walkways and driveways. All of these options serve to slow the flow of stormwater, spread it out, and allow it to soak into the ground rather than leaving your property.
 Add native plants to your landscape to attract birds and other wildlife. Not only will these areas be more efficient at absorbing stormwater; they also will be more resilient to pests, disease and drought, and the birds you attract will provide free bug control while reducing the need for pesticides and other yard chemicals.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H20: The Invaders

JeffCo Aug2015

They start out small, often unnoticed: a little leaf here, a vine tendril there.  But before you know it, your landscape is being overtaken by invasive plants.  Kudzu, privet, honeysuckle – these are just a few plants labeled as invasive that thrive in Alabama.  So what’s the big deal?  An invasive is a nonnative plant which spreads and threatens the survival of native plants and crops, or affects human health.  (Not all nonnative plants are invasive – think cotton and peanuts.) Alabama provides a long growing season and mild winter which help these invaders thrive.  In fact, invasives are such a serious threat to native ecosystems that there are federal, state, and local agencies devoted to controlling or eliminating these pests.  For home landscapes, the best solution is to be on the lookout for invaders and deal with them as quickly as possible.  Chemical free solutions include digging up the plant, root and all, putting it in a plastic bag, and placing it in the trash – or covering the affected area with a layer of cardboard topped with mulch to prevent the plant from getting any sunlight. If the invader already has become established and is spreading, carefully and selectively applying an herbicide such as glyphosate, which is absorbed by the plant rather than lingering in the soil, can help eliminate the problem while having minimal potential impact on water quality if you carefully and accurately follow package directions.  Remember to avoid applying yard chemicals just before or during a rain event and use only what you need.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H2O: Smorgasbird

One of the fastest growing hobbies in the US is bird watching.  More than 46 million people consider themselves to be bird watchers and about 60 million people regularly feed birds in order to attract them to their yards.  While many varieties of bird seed blends are readily available, the cost can quickly add up.  Rather than just purchasing seed to fill your bird feeders, another option is to install and grow a variety of plants, trees and grasses in your yard now so that they will produce berries and seeds that birds like to eat.  Many of these are native to our region, and generally are more drought and pest resistant, which can help reduce the need for supplemental watering and the use of yard chemicals.

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Inviting birds to become frequent visitors to your yard has other benefits as well.  Most songbirds primarily eat insects and spiders during the spring and summer months, which can help reduce the insect pest population in your yard without the use of insecticides. w1_aud0713_jad52

It’s also important to provide a water source to encourage birds to stick around.  A birdbath with a gently sloping shallow bowl (which birds prefer) is a simple and easy to install water feature to add to your yard, but any shallow, wide container or similar vessel lined with some clean gravel or rocks, filled with a few inches of water, and placed on the ground can work just as well.  Then, just sit back and enjoy your visitors!

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Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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TCNP Currents: Reflections by Samantha Brasher, Legacy Summer Intern

IMG_1979Legacy Summer Intern Samantha Brasher at Tapawingo Springs

Legacy: Family and the Environment

            The word legacy has multiple, slightly varied definitions in the English language. It is most widely used in reference to money and/or property received after a person’s death. For my purposes, however, I will use Dictionary.com‘s second definition, which is, “anything handed down from the past, as from an ancestor or predecessor.” Note, that with only a slight change in wording, the meaning of legacy expands to include so much more than material things. For me, legacy has everything to do with family and the environment.

There are a few ways I can introduce myself…

  1. My name is Samantha Brasher. I am on track to earn my Bachelor of Science in Environmental Stewardship from the University of Montevallo in the spring of 2016. Upon graduation, I am eager to pursue a career specifically in informal environmental education from a Christian perspective.
  2. I am the Legacy, Partners in Environmental Education, Summer Intern for 2015 at the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in Pinson, AL.
  3. I am O.C. Brasher’s granddaughter.

For many, the latter introduction is perfectly sufficient. Oran Cleveland “O.C.” Brasher, who passed away in August of 2013, was a pillar of the Pinson community in which Turkey Creek is located. He played an instrumental role in the founding and operation of S.T.A.R.T. (Society to Advance the Resources of Turkey Creek), the grassroots organization that is responsible for the creation of Turkey Creek Nature Preserve as we know it today; served as one of the founders of my home Church, Turkey Creek Missionary Baptist Church, and left a legacy of morality, strength and love that can be felt by everyone who knew him. He was so much to so many people, but to me and my two cousins, he was simply “Paw Paw,” and that means more to me than anything else he ever did.

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(Check me out top left!)

            My Paw Paw loved Turkey Creek and he passed that love down to his children and grandchildren. Multiple branches of my family tree lived off of this land and likely rubbed elbows with famous Turkey Creek residents, John and David Hanby and R. Dupont Thompson. Turkey Creek, its history and all of the incredible variety of life contained within its boundaries are apart of my legacy and I feel a deep personal responsibility to care for it. However, my desire to care for Turkey Creek and all of creation is not based solely on my family’s legacy. As a Christian, I believe that God has called all mankind to serve as stewards of creation. The whole earth and everything in it is our legacy from God!

Becoming stewards of God’s creation is the main message of the fun, free new program I will be leading at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve this summer. Valuing God’s Variety: Biodiversity and the Bible– in which students of all ages will discover the value of biodiversity, the incredible variety of life, will only be offered June-July 2015, so if you are reading this post and would like to sign up a group please contact me ASAP at samantha.c.brasher@gmail.com. I look forward to hearing from you! And thanks so much for hearing a little bit more about me.

SBrasher2Learn more about Legacy’s programs and future internship opportunities at: http://legacyenved.org/

Samantha Brasher

legacy. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved June 15, 2015, from Dictionary.com             website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/legacy

JeffCo H2O:Marvelous Mulch

Yes, mulch really is marvelous!  But how is it different from compost?  Compost is any kind of decayed organic material – vegetable scraps, leaves, grass clippings, or similar material.  Finished compost is brown and crumbly, smells earthy, and is packed with rich nutrients that plants need to grow.  Compost is best used by working it into the soil so that plants can absorb these nutrients through their roots.  On the other hand, mulch is organic material that is spread on top of the soil as a protective layer.  The main reason for using mulch is to minimize gardening chores, and who can argue with that?  That’s why it’s pretty much impossible to say enough good things about mulch.  Even if you never were good at math, it’s easy to see that when you add up the benefits of mulch, they greatly outweigh the cost and effort to install and maintain it.  A fresh layer of mulch around plants, bushes and trees creates an instant facelift for your landscape.  (Fresh mulch = enhanced curb appeal.)  Maintaining a layer of mulch about 3 inches deep creates a protective layer which stabilizes soil, reduces soil erosion,  and suppresses weed growth. (Fewer weeds = less need for weed killer.)  Mulch also helps soil absorb water more efficiently and traps in moisture.  (More moisture = less frequent watering.)  Mulch prevents harmful fluctuations in soil temperature, promotes better root systems, and assists plants in resisting pests and disease.  (More resilient plants = healthier, lusher landscape.)  Mulch promotes the growth of beneficial soil microorganisms which gradually decompose the mulch and help to enrich the soil from the top down.  (Richer soil = less need for fertilizer.)  And most importantly, mulch reduces yard work.  (Less work = more free time!)  Bottom line:  including mulch in your landscape truly provides one of the greatest returns on your investment than nearly any other landscape element.

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What’s Happening?

Do Dah Day, May 16 – Caldwell and Rhodes Parks, Birmingham.  Come on out to Birmingham’s oldest event and support local pet charities.  Storm Water Management staff will be there again with the ever popular poo toss game.  We will be distributing pet waste bags and flyers to reinforce the importance of picking up after your pet.

Brown Bag Seminar Series – Birmingham Botanical Gardens, 2612 Lane Park Road, Birmingham.  This free seminar series offers practical landscape design, fresh lawn and garden ideas, and proper planting and maintenance techniques.   No reservations are required; light refreshments are provided. Visit bbgardens.org to learn more.

 

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H2O: Go Vertical!

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Need some ideas to perk up your deck, porch or patio area?  Try looking UP rather than out and consider installing a vertical garden.  Vertical gardens have increased in popularity over the past few years for many reasons.  The obvious is that they are a great way to create a big impact in a small outdoor space since this concept makes it possible to really define an area with thoughtfully chosen placement, plants and containers.  There currently are many products available which have built in planters, pouches, or holders where plants or pots can be placed to make creating a vertical garden easy.  Alternatively, ideas for designing and constructing your own vertical garden using plastic soda bottles, jars, cans, garden fencing, gutters, hanging shoe organizers, or pallets are readily available online.

pallet garden

The benefits of vertical gardening go way beyond saving space.  Vertical gardens can be configured to maximize water use by allowing water to drip downward from one level to the next.  Any water that is not utilized by the plants on the lowest tier can be collected at the base of the frame or wall and reused as needed, eliminating any potential runoff.  Also, vertical gardens are usually more pest resistant than traditional container gardens because most insects will not make the upward trek to munch on them!  Strategically placed, a vertical garden can assist with home energy costs because it provides shade and can serve as a natural insulator for the external walls of your home.  Since they are space and water efficient, a vertical garden also can be installed inside your home where it can greatly improve interior air quality while providing a dramatic focal point for any room.

vertical garden_pallet

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H20:Turn Up the Heat!

Do you have a garden in a sunny area of your yard that is plagued with weeds, fungi, or other pests that infect your plants?  There are many weed killers out there for treating a variety of lawn and garden challenges.  And used properly, they can be very helpful.  But it’s also possible to avoid using yard chemicals altogether and still get rid of these issues by turning up the heat in your yard.  This process is called soil solarization, and the only requirements are water, a clear plastic tarp, and some time.  Preparing your yard or garden for soil solarization will take a little bit more effort than using a short cut with weed killers, but the end results will have some extra benefits that just might make it worthwhile.

Jeffcoh20 march 2015

The first step in the process is to create as clean a slate as possible:  remove any plants and debris from the area, then till, level and smooth the soil surface.  Next, water the soil until it is very saturated, about 12” deep into the soil.  Cover the targeted area with a heavy duty clear plastic tarp, and secure the edges with soil or rocks to keep it in place.  The clear plastic and water will concentrate the sun’s energy and magnify its effect, raising the temperature under the plastic and trapping heat in the soil.  The temperature under the tarp can rise to as high as 140⁰ depending upon the time of the year you choose to try this process.  During spring and fall, it will take about 6-8 weeks to achieve the desired results.  In the heat of summer, the process will be shortened to 4-6 weeks.  The sustained high temperature under the tarp is enough to kill weed seeds, insects, and many harmful fungi and bacteria.  Soil solarization also speeds up the breakdown of organic material in the soil and promotes the repopulation of worms, bacteria, and other helpful organisms.  The end result is that not only will you have eliminated many of the pests that had been hampering your plants, but also your soil will be in better shape than before you began.  After allowing the process to work for the recommended amount of time, carefully remove the plastic to keep it from shredding, and get ready to start planting!

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H2O:A Test You Can’t Fail!

Jeffco Blog_Feb15_Test Your Soil

If the thought of taking a test makes you break out into a cold sweat, take a deep breath and read on!  The only way you can fail this one is if you don’t take it.  Maybe you apply some sort of fertilizer to your lawn or garden every spring because the commercials on TV extoll its importance, or because your neighbors are putting fertilizer on their yards.  Before you rush to the store, doesn’t it make sense to first find out if your soil needs these nutrients, and if so, what kind and how much?  Rather than wasting money guessing, you can purchase a soil test kit from your local lawn and garden store, or pick up a free kit from the nearest Alabama Cooperative Extension System office and have your soil sample analyzed by Auburn University for $7.

If the soil test recommends adjusting soil pH, applying lime may be recommended.  If the test suggests adding nutrients, you will need to purchase the right kind of fertilizer for your yard.  First look for those three little numbers on the fertilizer bag.  These tell you the percentage of each of the three elements – nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium – that are included in the product.  The results of the soil test will indicate how much of each of these elements should be added to the soil to achieve the proper nutrient levels.  The remainder of the product is a filler which allows the fertilizer to be spread at the application rate recommended in the package directions.  You can set the application rate of your spreader by adjusting its dial to the number specified.

The fertilizer package also indicates how many square feet the product will cover.  Don’t forget to subtract any paved areas from the total when calculating the size of your yard.  Remember not to apply fertilizer right before or during a rain and to sweep up any product that falls on paved areas.  Like anything else, rain will wash fertilizer into the storm drainage system and carry it to the nearest stream or creek. Using the right amount of the right nutrients at the right time will save you money, maximize your yard’s ability to fight off pests and diseases while looking its best, and help protect water quality in local waterways.

What’s Happening?

Urban Forestry Fair, February 25 – Come on out to Linn Park (between the downtown Courthouse and Birmingham City Hall) from 9 am to 2 pm to receive FREE tree seedlings ready for planting.  Sponsored by the National Resources Conservation Service and the Alabama Forestry Commission.

Birmingham Annual Plant Dig, February 28 – Grab your garden tools, gloves and containers, and head to the New Georgia Landfill (2800 47th Street North, Birmingham) from 10 am to 2 pm to stock up on FREE plants for your yard.  Call 787-5222 to learn more.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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TCNP Currents: Reflections

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These cool, overcast, winter days provide a great opportunity for reflection, if for no other reason than to help motivate us beyond the cold bite of the wind to move forward and make things happen. The last few years have been a whirlwind at the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. It has been difficult to keep up with all of the wonderful advancements and developments as they are occurring and almost impossible to share those things with the public, who will certainly enjoy them the most.

So it seems to be a good time to take a moment between meetings, planning sessions, and trying to catch up on the long list of maintenance, repairs, and improvements before the spring busy season to reflect on where we have come from and what direction we are headed.

Most of you know that the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve (TCNP) is still relatively young; it was not that long ago that people where dumping their trash along the banks that children now run up and down all summer long. We have come a long way in just 6 years. Every year the list of improvements and achievements seems nearly impossible to keep up with. We have been working so hard to improve Turkey Creek that we have really not done a good job of sharing all that we are doing for you.

Here is the short version of some of the things we have recently accomplished:

  • Recent Enhancements:
    • 5-Star Stream Bank Restoration Project: Restored over 100 feet of Turkey Creek’s banks with native vegetation, erosion control, creek access steps and a native plant propagation nursery.
    • Added visitor amenities including: improved trash cans, benches, picnic tables, and signs
    • Native Plant Pollinator Garden
    • Developed 3 miles of new trail (over the last 2 years)
    • Improved parking
    • Updated energy efficiency of Nature Center and Residence
    • Added Pedestrian Friendly hours on Friday and Saturday Mornings
  • 2014 Public and School Programming
    • Approximately 100,000 annual visitors to the Preserve
    • 113 programs with over 6,000 participants
    • 29 Public Events; Highlights include: Float Your Boat, Naturalist Hikes, and Living History Programs
    • 37 Service groups with over 500 participants
    • 45,000 blog views

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Even with all that has already been accomplished, we are not slowing down. Not even close! 2015 is already shaping up to be even busier than previous years with more public programs, educational offerings, and enhancements.

Here is a quick peek at what we already have in store for our visitors this year:

  • 3 miles of new multi-use trails for mountain biking, hiking, and cross-country running. Funding provided through a grant from ADECA’s RTP program.
  • 240+ acre addition that could host over 12 miles of new trails for the future
  • Amenity improvements: additional parking, changing rooms, enhanced security, handrails on stairs to the Falls, and more informational signage.
  • Wilderness Ranger Training provided by Wild South
  • Summer Camp Programs

Site Map RTP 2014 with legend-01

Proposed Multi-Use Trail System Map

Obviously, there is a lot going on, and a lot of reasons to come out and visit Turkey Creek Nature Preserve this year. However, even with all of the wonderful support that we are provided by our partners and volunteers, we still need your help to keep our operation functioning! Consider for a moment: we do not charge admission, we have only one full time staff member, and we are doing all of this on less than a shoestring budget. Imagine what we could do if we received more support from people like yourself.

What is Turkey Creek, all of the memories, fun, and discovery worth to you?

Remember while admission to Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is always free, maintaining it is not!

If our visitors (like you!) were all willing to give just a little it could provide us the opportunity to give a lot!

Please take a moment and invest in the future of TCNP, if not for you, then for your community and the children that live there!

Visit: https://turkeycreeknp.wordpress.com/support-2/ to learn how you can make a difference.

 

See ya downstream!

Charles Yeager

Manager, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve

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JeffCo H2O: The Bare Naked Truth

TCNP BLOG H2O January winter home landscape

Although we are fortunate here in the south to have very few bleak, sunless, winter days, there still are times when it’s easy to look out the window and yearn for the color and freshness of spring.  The one good thing about brown grass, leafless trees, and sparse garden beds is that they provide the chance to really evaluate your landscape. This bareness can highlight the shape, balance and location of all the good (and sometimes not so good) elements of your yard.  It’s easy to see trees and bushes that need to be pruned, and areas of the yard that look empty and uninspired.  There are many varieties of native plants, trees, and bushes with brightly colored berries, evergreen leaves, or beautiful bark to consider adding to your landscape to improve its visual interest during the winter months.  Many of them also have the added benefit of providing food and shelter for wildlife.  In fact, inviting birds to become frequent visitors to your yard can help reduce the insect pest population in the spring and summer.

Winter also provides a chance to think about how you would like to enjoy your yard and to determine if it currently is fulfilling those wishes.  It’s very possible that your needs or abilities have changed but your yard hasn’t kept up with those changes.  Maybe physical or time limitations mean that this year you would like to plan for a more maintenance free landscape.  Or life changes such as children, pets, or retirement have inspired you to create a more functional space for play or relaxation.  Whatever changes the New Year is bringing to your life, winter is the perfect time to start thinking about what you want your outdoor space to become.

Like most things in life, the best landscape designs start with a plan.  A home landscape planning guide can help you organize your ideas and get started implementing a new vision for your yard.  The Alabama Cooperative Extension’s (ACES) Alabama Smart Yards (ANR-1359), available for free at the ACES website, is a great reference for turning your landscaping ideas into reality.

 

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCo H2O: Get your green on!

The holidays are a time for celebrating family traditions and enjoying festive gatherings.  Unfortunately holidays also can have an unintended impact on the environment.  Take trash for example:  According to the Nature Conservancy, household waste in the US increases by more than 25% from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, and trash from gift wrap and gift bags alone totals 4 million tons annually.

No matter what holidays you celebrate, there are many ways to make them greener.  Getting creative when it comes to wrapping gifts can provide a second life to old newspaper, paper grocery bags, and gently used wrapping paper.  You can even eliminate paper wrap all together:  a scarf, t-shirt, reusable shopping bag, festive container, or other similar item can be used to wrap a gift.

jeffco gift wrap

sustainable t-shirt gift wraps

Choosing seasonal, locally grown foods means that your ingredients didn’t have to travel across the country to get to your point of purchase.  Heating several side dishes together and resisting the temptation to open the oven door to peek reduces energy use.  You can even strive for zero waste by using real dishes, cups, flatware and napkins rather than disposable goods and finding recipes that will help use up any leftover food.

According to the EPA, about 40% of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Both disposable and rechargeable batteries can become an environmental hazard if they are not recycled and properly disposed.  While outdoor lighting displays can add to your home’s appearance, choosing LED lights and turning them off during the day will save energy.  For inside the home, opt for beeswax or soy candles rather than paraffin; they are made from renewable sources, burn longer and produce less soot.

Rather than purchasing pre-made decorations for your home, consider bringing the outdoors in and decorating using natural elements.  Sustainable arrangements and garlands made from seasonal fruit like apples and cranberries, dried flowers and pods, and fresh greenery such as holly, pine or magnolia branches from your yard look beautiful and smell great.  When it’s time to undeck the halls, these materials can be added to your compost pile.

jeffco cranberry candle

Cranberry Candle

Real or fake tree?  The debate goes on, but most experts agree that real trees are the more environmental choice.  The majority of cut trees are grown on farms as a crop, are replanted after harvesting, and can be recycled into mulch.  Many municipalities and some local businesses offer free tree recycling.  In some cases, the resulting mulch is used for parks, school grounds, and other public areas.

jeffco sustainable wreath

Sustainable Wreath Idea

Want to know how, where, or when to recycle something?  The Alabama Environmental Center’s RecycleAL.org website is a great local resource for information about most things recyclable.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCoH20:Baked, broiled, grilled or fried

More than 3,000 miles of sanitary sewer lines serve 480,000 people in Jefferson County.  This vital function makes it possible for customers to rise in the morning, get ready for work or school, and not have to think about what happens to their waste water after showering, brushing teeth, or flushing!  One challenge to the operation of the sanitary sewer system is the buildup of fats, oils, and grease – FOG – in the sewer lines.  Over time, these substances can create clogs and result in backups that cause sewage to overflow into homes, yards, streets, and waterways.  Not only are these events costly to repair, they also can be a health hazard.  One main source of FOG in the sewer system is households. 

Dirty dishes in sink

No matter what you cook or how you cook it, there usually is some fat, oil or grease involved in the process.  When the holiday meals are over and it’s time to wash the stack of plates, pots, pans, and casserole dishes piled in the sink, take a few minutes to make sure that FOG doesn’t wash down the kitchen drain.  Even if you have a garbage disposal or use hot water and detergent, it will not prevent FOG buildup in your plumbing or the sewer system.  If you are connected to a septic system, a similar scenario applies – FOG can build up and cause your septic system to malfunction.  

The good news is that the solution is easy!  Discard in the trash unwanted food scraps from plates and cookware.  Any remaining FOG can be cooled and poured or scraped into a plastic or metal container with a lid and taken to the nearest Jefferson County cooking oil recycling station.  New recycling containers are available to you for free at all recycling stations.  Preventing FOG from going down the drain can go a long way toward reducing plumbing emergencies and unhealthy sewer overflows.

Proper FOG disposal

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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JeffCoH2O: Dirt, only better

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Some people call it organic fertilizer.  Others go so far as to call it black gold.  Whatever the name, compost is a free, renewable source of rich, nutrient dense material that can be used in multiple ways in your yard.  Compost is the natural result of decomposing organic materials and contains a variety of nutrients that plants need to grow.  Organisms such as earthworms, beetles and snails munch away on these organic materials and break them down into smaller bits.  Microscopic bacteria and fungi go to work on the leftovers and handle the chemical end of decomposing.  Even though it sounds icky, the result is a rich topsoil-like blend of exactly what most plants need to thrive.

Starting a compost pile at home is not difficult, does not require much space and, depending upon weather conditions, can yield usable compost in as little as a few weeks.   All you need to get started is an area in which to contain the materials, a combination of green and brown organic waste, some water and air, occasional stirring of the ingredients, and some patience.  Materials you can use to start composting are not hard to find – look no further than your yard and kitchen.  Rather than sending yard debris such as grass clippings, leaves, and small branches, and kitchen waste such as vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, and coffee grounds to the landfill, compost them instead.  With our relatively mild winters here in Alabama, composting can continue year-round.  Once your compost pile has transformed into dark, crumbly material, and you can’t identify any of the original ingredients, it is ready to use.

Besides being a rich organic fertilizer, compost also can help transform clay or sandy soil into a more plant friendly composition, increase the soil’s ability to retain moisture, prevent weeds from growing, and reduce stormwater runoff.  According to the EPA, for every1% that you increase your soil’s organic content, you also increase its water absorption capacity by 16,000 gallons of water per acre, down to one foot deep.  The beneficial organisms that compost introduces to your soil help perpetuate the benefits of composting by continuing the cycle of organic decomposition.  Fall is the perfect time to install new plants, trees and shrubs in your yard, and the availability of your homemade compost will provide numerous benefits to any landscape additions you make.  Check out Alabama Cooperative Extension’s publications Backyard Composting and Commonly Asked Questions to learn more!

What’s happening?

 Birmingham Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale – October 18 -19 – Shop for herbs, trees, native plants, and more!  Call 414.3965 or visit www.bbgardens.org for details.

Electronic Recycle Day – October 22 – Bring unwanted electronics to Linn Park from 6 am to 2 pm for FREE recycling.  No white goods (washers, dryers, etc.).  Call 787.5222 for more information.

Recycling & Waste Reduction Summit – October 30 – Learn how businesses, schools, and communities are tackling waste reduction in innovative ways.  Contact Alabama Environmental Council for information.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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Exploring Pinson’s Legacy: More Historical Indifference

In this month’s article, I will continue the rant started in July (hey, I’ve got to get it out of my system somehow…).

Last month, I focused on the lack of interest that far too many people have in their town’s or area’s history. This month, I want to drill down further into two additional categories; first, people who don’t seem care about the history or genealogy of their own family, and second, those people who like to think they know something, but haven’t bothered to do the work needed to ascertain the facts.

A case in point… Recently, I happened to overhear a person discussing, in great detail, a recent conversation during which some facts regarding their family’s role in the history of a local town had come into question. It apparently involved a disagreement between this person and a local historian who had written something in opposition to the first person’s beliefs about their family history.

Now, who was right? (Maybe, the better question is who was correct?) I don’t know and I don’t really need (or want) to know… Taking sides is not the point. But, for the sake of clarity, let’s look at what we think we “know” in this case…

First, let’s talk about the person whose family history is at issue. In this case, the person had heard various anecdotes and stories over the years from older family members that led to the beliefs that they have. It’s likely that most people take such conversations pretty much at face value and simply file them away as memories.

In the first case, someone is not interested in learning more about their family history… they are not interested in pursuing or questioning the stories. They do not take steps to dig into their family history and learn more about it. Maybe they find boxes of old photos or bundles of letters belonging to their grandmother… “OK, nothing valuable here, so just throw them out”. (These are often the same people who are prone to tear old buildings down for no other reason than they are old buildings – they do not see value in things that happened in the past). If others in the family want to play around in the branches of the family tree, they aren’t interested in taking part; and usually they are bored to the point of being comatose.

In the second case, the person takes significant pride in their family’s history. However, as in the first case, they do not delve further into the accounts they have heard from their forebears. In other words, “Granddad said it, I believe it, that settles it” or “I believe what I believe, don’t confuse me with the facts”.  Aside from what I view as a lack of curiosity, such a perspective results in an inability to look at the past, our community’s past, our family’s past square in the eye. When we fail in this, we discard any chance of seeing our history, and what we can learn from it, in all of its dimensions.

Now, on to the local historian… If they’ve done the appropriate due diligence, they should have some degree of objective documentation (newspaper articles, journal entries, etc.) that substantiates the historical position they are taking. Any good local historian will typically try to corroborate this information with other sources, in order to learn as much as possible about the event or person. Again, any good historian worth their salt will document the anecdotes, stories, tall tales, or urban legends that may accompany the particular occurrence. This allows the history to be a genuinely multi-faceted experience rather than simply a dry, single-sided litany of facts.

So, on a scale of 1 to 10 measuring interest in their about family history, the first case would seem to indicate a rating of 1-2, while the second would maybe rate a 9-10.

In both cases, however, what is missing, at the very least, is a willingness to think critically or objectively about their family’s history. Granted, such a willingness brings with it somewhat of an obligation to accept whatever they may learn (“if you’re not willing to accept the answer, don’t ask the question”). However, what is even more dangerous is there is an unwillingness to look at the past, warts and all, in an effort to learn from the experiences we collectively had, both the good and the bad. As anyone whose has read these blogs previously knows, I am a proponent of never editing our history – it is what it is… such a practice may be discomforting, but it allows us to learn so much more about our past and “forces” us to view our history as it really was, not what we wish it would be.

Over the past several months, I have had the privilege of working closely with a local Italian-American Heritage Society on an exhibit at Vulcan highlighting the contributions of Italian-Americans in early Birmingham. This group of immigrants came to America with little more than dreams and hopes of making a better life. Most Italian immigrants did not know the language or culture of their new country and were often treated with disdain and racial prejudices akin to those imposed on African-Americans by the white-dominated society of the time. There were numerous questions (and perceived concerns) as to whether Italians could be considered “white”. They were subjected to racial slurs and often forced to live in what amounted to “buffer zones” between whites and blacks. They were typically relegated to menial jobs and were often not given their due in terms of civil rights. Coupled with a prevalent anti-Catholic wave sweeping the country at the end of the 19th century and into the early years of the 20th century, Italians were often denigrated and were the target of jokes and conspiracy theories alike. As a result, they often “circled the wagons” and became somewhat of an insular community with a strong sense of church and family.

I have come to both admire and appreciate the members of the Italian-American community. Not only are they enthusiastic about their history and culture, they fully embrace the realities of their past, both good and bad. And while the injustices of the past are not good memories, they recognize that those experiences helped make them the people they are, with a great love for family, church, community, and a passion for life.

For those interested, the Italian-American exhibit at Vulcan, entitled “La Storia” will open beginning Friday, September 19 at Vulcan Park and Museum and will be in place until September 2015..

This article is intended to provide accurate historical information to a general audience. Material contained herein is gathered from reputable online and traditional sources, but unless otherwise noted, is not the result of original scholarship or research by the author.

E. E. (Skip) Campbell, Ph.D.

Skip Campbell retired from UPS in early 2012 after 38 years as a senior manager, working in numerous locations in the United States and abroad, with primary responsibilities in operations and industrial engineering. He received his BS degree in Applied Science and Operations Analysis from the University of Alabama and holds Master’s degrees in Engineering Management, Quality and Management,. Skip holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development, with concentrations in Organizational Theory and Macroergonomics. Skip is a Senior Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and sits on the Board of Visitors for the College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama. Since retiring, Skip serves as an Adjunct Professor with the College of Continuing Studies (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Alabama and focuses his academic research efforts on the area of pre-20th century Alabama history. Skip belongs to a number of historical and cemetery preservation associations. He and his wife Denise have 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are the views of the individual author(s) and do not reflect the views or policies of the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve or it’s partners. We do not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented on the website, nor does it make any representation concerning the same.

TCNP Currents: The Future of Turkey Creek

Have you visited Turkey Creek Nature Preserve this year or in the last few years?

If you have, you are not alone! Every year approximately 100,000 families, kids, and outdoor enthusiast pass through our gates. With that many people visiting TCNP, you would think that donations would be arriving daily. Unfortunately that is far from the truth. Sadly, we almost never receive donations from the public. We have worked very hard to develop an experience for our guests that is unique in the state of Alabama and are constantly working to add new features that will further enhance that experience. However, in doing so, we have come up short in helping our visitors understand how we operate. The truth is that without more public support, TCNP could be forced to close its gates one day for good!

You may wonder why we do not charge admission. That is a very good question that does not have a simple answer. One of the problems with this suggestion is that we cannot pay someone to collect it. We only have 1 person on staff and spend money on materials only when they are absolutely necessary. Furthermore, TCNP is owned by State Lands (not state parks), meaning that we cannot collect admission. Even if we did charge admission, it would not go towards funding the Preserve specifically, but instead go to the Alabama state general fund. We do receive some support through grant funding, which we work extremely hard to obtain. But those grants do not keep fuel in the lawnmowers, pay for trash bags, or pay our manager.

Many of our visitors assume that we receive government funding. This is only partially true. We do receive about 30% of our annual budget from the City of Pinson, but the remaining 70% of our funding comes from the source that was originally developed to help start up the Preserve (check out the infographic below for more about TCNP funding). This source was never intended to last more than 1 or 2 years, however, we have stretched it out for over 5 years (which is in no small part due to the support from the City of Pinson)! Unfortunately, this source is just about gone and we are left with only one more year of funding. This is a pretty scary situation for everyone that is involved, and we have been working tirelessly to come up with a solution. The reality is, however, that if we do not start receiving more support from the people that use the Preserve, it might not continue to be available to them. This all comes across very dramatic, but it is true and something no one wants to see happen.

To put this into perspective, consider this: TCNP’s annual operational budget is only $60,000, which is 1/10th of the budget of other comparable parks/nature areas (like Ruffner Mountain or Red Mountain). While we would love to have more, so that we can provide more, this is only the bare minimum that we need to operate, and we do not have it.

So really, the only solution is for you to get involved! Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is a public place that benefits the public. Just like any other freely provided service, it is up to you to show how much it is worth to you. Even if you cannot give a lot, you should still consider giving, because if everyone who used the Preserve gave just a little, we would have no problems reaching our funding needs.

To find out how you can help please visit: https://turkeycreeknp.wordpress.com/support-2/

TCNP infographic 02-01

 

 See ya downstream!

Charles Yeager

Manager, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve

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Discovering Turkey Creek

Look for new program offerings coming soon at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve.  We will be doing guided interpretive hikes every 3rd Sunday to explore the ecology and beauty of Turkey Creek.  This is a chance for folks to tune in a little deeper and learn new things about our public lands.  Our first Discovering Turkey Creek Hike will be “All for Fall” a wildflower hike through the riparian zone at Turkey Creek where we will learn names and some fun facts about fall wildflowers.  

.Turkey Creek Please come out and join us on Sunday, Sept 21 at 3pm.  Meet at the Falls parking area. 5$ donation requested.

JeffCoH2O: Trash Floats!

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When we talk about litter, we usually refer to solid waste that is improperly discarded along roadways and in communities.  But the impact of litter can go far beyond where it is dropped or thrown.  If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you probably know that whatever is on the ground can be washed by rain, carried through the storm drainage system, and emptied into the nearest waterway.  Take a walk along Turkey Creek or any of our local creeks right after a heavy rain, and you will find a surprising array of items such as plastic drink bottles, aluminum cans, cigarette butts, plastic bags, fast food wrappers, and sports equipment that have taken that journey.  Besides being unsightly, litter in waterways can be harmful to aquatic animals as well as humans. Objects with sharp edges can cut, plastic bags and containers can trap or entangle, cigarettes and other materials can leach chemicals into the water, and decaying food can attract vermin.  Of even greater concern are the pollutants which are not so easily seen, such as fertilizers, pesticides and motor oil which wash from yards, streets, and parking lots.

Just as trash and pollutants on the ground don’t always stay there, the same principle applies to trash and pollutants in waterways.  During the summer, we sometimes hear about beach closures and the negative health and economic impacts they create.  These news stories rarely mention that some of the trash and pollutants that wind up on beaches come from rivers, creeks and streams that drain to the ocean.

Those of you who live near a beautiful waterway such as Turkey Creek have a special perspective on the effects that trash and other pollutants have on waterways.  Consider using your love for this creek to create a legacy of watershed stewardship.  Whenever you have the opportunity, teach the young people in your life how to prevent stormwater pollution and preserve the integrity of Turkey Creek.

What’s Happening?

Pollution Prevention Week – September 14 – 20 – Litter isn’t the only pollutant threatening our waterways.  Everything exposed to rain is a potential source of pollution!  What pollutants are lurking at your home?

SepticSmart Week – September 21-27 – Find out how to maintain your septic system to keep it working properly and reduce the chance of raw sewage entering your yard, home, or local waterways.

Step Away from the Spray! – September 27 – Come out to the Birmingham Botanical Gardens 11am – 1pm and learn how to manage mosquitos and other backyard bugs using birds, bats and other natural methods.  Free mosquito prevention kits and other helpful items will be available to assist you in controlling these pesky pests in an environmentally friendly way.  For more information, call 205.325.8741.

 

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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Exploring Pinson’s Legacy: Historical Indifference

July’s article, coming half-way through the year (as most things in July tend to do), is a rant of sorts… Hopefully not a rant of tantrum-throwing, foot-stomping proportions, but certainly one expressing a prevailing sense of frustration, hopelessness bordering on despair, and a [metaphorical] desire to grab some people by the nape of the neck and shake the living @#$& out of them…

Why, you may ask, are you so up in arms? This is a valid question, the answer to which is the subject of this month’s discussion.

For the eighteen months or so that I have written this monthly history blog, a common thread has (hopefully) run throughout… that those of us living in the Pinson Valley and its environs are truly fortunate to have the rich and varied history that we do. Our history has not always been pretty, and frequently, not for the faint of heart. But, you don’t get to choose your history any more than you get to choose your parents… So, it is what it is.

Moreover, each of is historically-situated, basically meaning that we are products of the times in which we live. As such, while we can (and should) debate, interpret, and learn from our particular histories. It is my opinion, however, that we should never try to rewrite it. Such whitewashing of documentable facts does a dis-service to the history itself. It is unfair to our forebears who lived (and often suffered) through the times that are being discussed. As such, we should never try to whitewash, obscure, or otherwise, attempt to obliterate particular times or occurrences in that history.

As each article took shape and, even afterwards, the words would stick inside – both in my head and in my heart…

Historians, however, are supposed to be able to take a scholarly step back; being dispassionate in their research and objective in the analysis and discussion of past events and the repercussions of said events. In other words, one should never take the events of history personally.

And therein lays the rub… Now, I get the objectivity part [I really do]. When I do research, I can step back and view the facts with the necessary degree of professional detachment.

What haunts me so is that there are so many people in our communities that, very simply, couldn’t care less about their history. They say such things as: “What’s past is past…”, “You have to keep moving forward to grow”, “Why should I care? I didn’t know those people”. Now, to be fair, some people don’t have the “gene”. They simply don’t get it. There are still others who don’t care. They don’t see the important lessons that history gives us about how to live our lives. They don’t understand why it is important to recognize the contributions of our ancestors and to appreciate their struggles. They don’t understand the continual connection that the past has with the present and the present with the future.

I think this indifference results in the almost universal fact that historical and genealogical societies, museums, cemetery preservation groups, and historical restoration and conservation projects are chronically saddled with little or no financial support. Active physical support is in almost as sad a shape and is typically limited to more [ahem] senior citizens of the community. Politicians often give lip service, but little substantive support (dead folks usually don’t vote or pay taxes). It is important to get as many of us as possible (especially the young) actively involved. We learn much from our history, we learn important lessons when we have deep conversations and experiences about our shared histories, and we almost always emerge as better people as a result.

This article is intended to provide accurate historical information to a general audience. Material contained herein is gathered from reputable online and traditional sources, but unless otherwise noted, is not the result of original scholarship or research by the author.

E. E. (Skip) Campbell, Ph.D.

Skip Campbell retired from UPS in early 2012 after 38 years as a senior manager, working in numerous locations in the United States and abroad, with primary responsibilities in operations and industrial engineering. He received his BS degree in Applied Science and Operations Analysis from the University of Alabama and holds Master’s degrees in Engineering Management, Quality and Management,. Skip holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development, with concentrations in Organizational Theory and Macroergonomics. Skip is a Senior Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and sits on the Board of Visitors for the College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama. Since retiring, Skip serves as an Adjunct Professor with the College of Continuing Studies (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Alabama and focuses his academic research efforts on the area of pre-20th century Alabama history. Skip belongs to a number of historical and cemetery preservation associations. He and his wife Denise have 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are the views of the individual author(s) and do not reflect the views or policies of the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve or it’s partners. We do not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented on the website, nor does it make any representation concerning the same.

JeffCo H2O: Single Use Society

Single use-1Emptying a coffee pod into the coffee maker, drinking bottled water, bringing purchases home in plastic bags, and choosing pre-packaged food items are all very convenient.  That’s why it’s so easy to fall into the trap of use it once and throw it away.  But according to Newton’s third law of motion, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The results of enjoying these conveniences without regard for the waste they generate are landfills packed to capacity, littered roads, and trashed waterways. Every waterway on earth eventually drains to an ocean, and both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans have enormous islands of trash.01garbage-patch2The primary component of these floating dumps is plastic, and most of it comes from land sources.  Dozens of cities have passed ordinances banning the use of plastic bags for retail sales and assessing a deposit for recyclable drink containers.  While these types of laws can reduce the use of specific items or encourage their recycling, they don’t begin to address the  enormity of waste generated as the result of single use items.  There are some obvious small steps we can take to reduce our personal consumption, such as choosing items with less packaging, ramping up our recycling efforts for those convenience items we just can’t do without, and opting for reusable items whenever possible.  But the potential for change doesn’t stop with these few examples.  Consciously identifying and adopting more responsible consumption habits can change our society from single use to sustainable.oneuse-300x225-1

 What’s Happening?

Brown Bag Seminar Series – Don’t miss the chance to enjoy the August Brown Bag Series seminars at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens.  The seminars are free, no registration is required, and light refreshments are provided.  Call 325.8741 for more details.

August 6 – The Buzz on Pollinators – Sallie Lee

For a bountiful garden, learn how to welcome bee pollinators in colorful and exciting ways in your garden.  Auditorium 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

 August 13 – Porous, Permeable and Pervious – James Horton

When it comes to pathways and driveways, discover beautiful alternatives to concrete and asphalt.  Auditorium 11:30 am – 12:30 pm

Jefferson County National Night Out – August 5 – This annual event encourages partnerships between neighborhoods and the Sheriff’s Office to enhance safety and crime prevention.  For a list of locations and times, visit the Sheriff’s Office website or call 325-1450.

 Valley Creek Cleanup – August 23 – Pitch in and help pick up litter and trash from Valley Creek from 8 am – 12 pm.  Free t-shirt and hot dog lunch.  For more information, visit http://www.jcdh.org/wpd

National Dog Day August 26 – ‘Paws’ for just a moment to celebrate our special bond with canines and commit to picking up and properly disposing of your pet’s waste.

August is National Water Quality Month – What are you doing to protect water quality in Jefferson County’s 50 creeks and streams?

 

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203
205.325.8741

diclementel@jccal.org

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