News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, JULY 9, 2006


State prison system must act to clean up waste water

Running prisons is a messy business.

The Limestone Correctional Facility in Capshaw produces 200,000 gallons of sewage each day, and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management has cited it five times in the past year for discharges exceeding permitted levels.

The Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a Birmingham-based environmental group, claims Donaldson Prison in Jefferson County committed more than 1,000 violations of the Clean Water Act since 1999 by discharging sewage into Big Branch and Valley Creek, a tributary of the Black Warrior River.

The prisons' waste water treatment facilities are old and overworked, and often release raw or partially treated waste into surrounding waterways.

Prisons Commissioner Richard Allen is turning to other entities, including the private sector, to lease, upgrade and run the prison system's eight waste water management facilities.

Starting July 20, the Department of Corrections will begin accepting proposals from firms on how they will comply with state and federal environmental laws and how they will finance the operations.

Under the plan, the operator will take on the financial responsibilities of the plants' operations and the prison system will become a customer. The new operators will be responsible to comply with environmental codes.

We hope that the prison system isn't simply looking for a way to shift responsibility for its irresponsible environmental policies. We are sure the prison system knows that the plan will be costly; that it can't just heap its problems on another entity — public or private — and wash its hands.

The Limestone Water and Sewer Authority and the city of Huntsville have both expressed interest in treating sewage at Limestone Correctional Facility. It is reassuring to know that groups experienced at sewage treatment and familiar with codes are interested in the job.

But prison officials must realize that the service will be costly. They must choose a responsible, capable operator and be willing to pay for the service.

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