Corey Martin is a first-time Fairhope City Council member looking for creative solutions to protect Fairhope’s water resources for future generations.
This summer, the city of Fairhope had a water system problem. The high temperatures and lack of rainfall in the summer caused huge losses. Customers were using water faster than the system could refill storage tanks, so Mayor Sherri Sullivan asked residents to voluntarily limit water use for irrigation, car washes and swimming pool uses while the city went through three phases in its emergency water conservation plan. The City Council approved changes requested by Sullivan to the water conservation plan to allow for early transitions in the implementation phases of mandatory water use restrictions.
The final solution Sullivan brought before the council was a water connection project between Fairhope Public Utilities and Daphne Utilities. The project will create a link between the two systems and increase the capacity of Fairhope or Daphne by 500,000 gallons of water in the event of an emergency. The Fairhope City Council approved the project on August 29.
With Fairhope’s development and growth showing no signs of slowing down, Martin is looking for solutions to the city’s future water needs. He recently brought up the topic during the Aug. 29 council meeting, but this wasn’t the first time.
“Other municipalities in other states and even here, with the new Clean Water Act that we have, we’re able to reclaim or reuse water, which some people call gray water,” Martin said. “In that water, it goes through our wastewater treatment plant, it gets cleaned and sterilized and it goes back into our bay now. So instead of putting it back into our bay, we can reclaim that water and put it in a tank and use it as a distribution source just for irrigation.”
Martin said his interest in alternative water sources and uses was sparked by a water supply issue in Fairhope in 2020 or 2021. That’s when he learned about how water distribution worked in Fairhope.
“When I learned how our water was distributed and why it was so low (water used for irrigation), it made sense to separate the water,” Martin said. “If we were to use our food, our drinking water that provides us with nutrients, and survive to pee in the grass, Grandma would say, ‘Don’t pee in the grass, keep your drinking water.’ That’s just basic common sense.”
When Fairhope’s water system uses 8 million gallons a day, Martin said about half of it is used for purposes other than drinking, such as irrigation, car washing, pressure washing or filling a swimming pool.
“I get it. I like the grass to look good too, but not enough to kill myself,” Martin said. “There are priorities in terms of the food chain and priorities and the hierarchy of care. There are certain things that my mind puts above things.”
Martin has visited Africa on mission trips and seen water issues on a global level.
“We are steadily trying to drill wells and find water and equipment that can tap deep enough to get the water,” Martin said. “They walk 10 miles to school to get water, and some of them can’t get to school. They still walk 10 miles to get water.
“There are real water problems as close as California, and we shouldn’t know biblically and historically that we can’t rely on our Creator-created resources or take them for granted and be voluntary with them; that’s a first-world problem. That drives me crazy.”
We need to start planning for the future regarding our water resources, Martin said.
He said: “We have a large aquifer there, but that does not mean that our solution is to continue digging wells until we consume them. Then our great-grandchildren will ask where the water is.” “We’ve done it through infrastructure. Historically, we’ve just learned that we have to start planning for 30, 50, 100 years if we’re wise and prudent. I’m trying to get my constituents around me to start thinking that way and express it to the public. I think you’ll get Most of the audience that appreciates it.”
The big idea
The city of Fairhope’s sewer system cleans, sanitizes and returns about 4 million gallons of clean wastewater to the watershed every day, Martin said. He wants to find a way to benefit from it.
“I went to residency in Florida, I went to Arizona and California and all of these places use gray water. They separate their lines because they value their drinking water,” Martin said. “They know their water levels are low there, so they value their drinking water. We’re going to get to that point. If you read far enough, it’s going to come across the United States and it’s something that ecologists are concerned about, not just climate control.” But the water levels, for us to know that now and just say, ‘Hey, we’re going to put 4 gallons of our drinking water on our lawns and not build the infrastructure to stop that in the future.’ I think that’s absurd, and I’ve said that a thousand times.”
After being told that the use of gray water or treated water was illegal in Alabama, Martin began looking into the matter by contacting the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). During the call, he discovered that the uses had been legal for two or three years thanks to the Clean Water Act.
“The crazy part is no one has an application to do this in Alabama. No one. We’ll be the first to do it,” Martin said. “It’s crazy. Why not be the first to do something? Why not be proud of it and fly your flag?”
ADEM does not have regulations that specifically address gray water, said M. Lynn Patel, head of the Office of External Affairs. However, ADEM admin. Code Rule 335-6-20 specifies the permitting program with specific requirements for reuse of water from municipal/domestic wastewater treatment facilities.
Supervisor Adeem. Code Rule 335-6-20-0.10 Municipal Reuse of Reclaimed Water says that Class A and Class B reclaimed water uses include:
(a). Land use for forage, fiber crops, ornamental nurseries, seed crops and grasses not intended for human ingestion, and pastures for animals that do not produce milk for human consumption; And
(b) During periods of non-use, irrigate golf courses, highway medians, roadside plants and cemeteries.
(c) Class A reclaimed water may also be reused to irrigate parks, ball fields, playgrounds, school grounds during periods of non-use, and residential and commercial campuses.
Martin, who serves on Fairhope’s environmental advisory board, went to board members and asked them to investigate the project. He said he needed their help to figure out if and how Fairhope could use gray water. They told him a feasibility study was needed, and they found a company.
“I think we have some grant money to request a feasibility study to get this done,” Martin said. “This is where we are. We are taking steps to see what that looks like.”
For now, Martin’s task is to find out if it can be done, how it can be done and at what cost. A feasibility study will be the beginning, and then, depending on the results, the next step will be to find engineers who can research and think outside the box and find a safe and financially viable option. He’s open to looking to college students for an innovative plan as well.
“We had Tuskegee students co-design a design to get more green space at Yonge and Nichols in the old substation. It would be the same concept,” he said. “There are ways to do this that are innovative and encourage learning, excitement and moving forward at the same time.”
Martin and Fairhope’s Environmental Advisory Board will continue to work on completing the feasibility study. Once this is done, they will know the next steps. It’s not a quick process, but Martin is optimistic.
“It’s time for us to have a vision and act accordingly,” he told Gulf Coast Media in September 2020 during his campaign for council. “Vision without action is just a daydream. Action without vision is just a waste of time. With vision and action, you can conquer the world.”