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Last updated 12:23AM ET
March 6, 2021
Low River Levels Impact Paper Mills
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - Low river levels brought on by the drought have forced one paper company in Monroe County to use pumps on a barge to supply water to the mill and another in Prattville to store wastewater in ponds instead of discharging it into the Alabama River.

Officials at Alabama River Pulp Co. near Perdue Hill said the pumping operation was needed because the river had fallen below 7 feet.

"We are currently operating at levels at which we have never operated before," said Pete Black, Alabama River Pulp's general manager.

Martha Sims, manager of environmental performance for International Paper at Prattville, said wastewater was put in holding ponds due to concerns about river water quality if it was discharged.

"I've been here 26 years," she said. "I can't tell you a time we've held water for this long for this purpose, due to river conditions."

The difficulties some paper mills are having was one of the topics discussed Wednesday during a weekly drought update moderated by the Army Corps of Engineers. The problems at Alabama River Pulp and International Paper in Prattville were reported by The Birmingham News.

Black said the river intake for the mill begins to lose suction when the water level drops below 7 feet, but it has been between 5.5 feet and 6 feet deep in recent weeks.

"To combat the problem, we have placed a barge with supplemental pumps into the river and these pumps supply additional water to flood our river intake," Black said in a written response to questions.

Although the system has allowed the company to keep running, it's costing the company $5,000 per week to operate the extra pumps.

"The situation also places the operation in jeopardy if one of these additional pumps should fail," Black said.

Sims said the Prattville plant could release some wastewater into the river and not push quality levels below the minimum standard of 5 milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter of water.

But she said some water samples, taken Saturday at 10 points along a 20-mile stretch of the Alabama River near the mill, showed dissolved oxygen levels of less than 6 milligrams per liter.

So officials decided to temporarily store the treated wastewater in holding ponds, in hopes that recent rains will boost river flow, which can help boost dissolved oxygen levels.

"We're just trying to be conservative, and give the river time for natural conditions to let the dissolved oxygen level increase," Sims said.


Information from: The Birmingham News

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