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Illegal vs. Legal Pollution

Illegal vs. Legal Pollution

When you see pollution, the first step is to document it with photos and videos. This is critical! After that, it’s time to contact the right folks. With so many different government agencies regulating various forms of pollution, it can be hard to know who to call. This page is intended to help you determine what is worth filing a complaint over and who to contact to file a complaint. You can also always file a complaint with or seek additional advice from your Riverkeeper by using this form! We appreciate you copying us on any complaints you file so we can follow up on them as necessary.

Water Pollution

What’s Legal: Certain water pollution is permitted by the state and is legal, as long as it remains within limits set in a permit. This can make it complicated to know if a permitted polluter, like a sewage plant or industrial facility, is violating the law (That is why we have our Riverkeeper Patrol program). Other water pollution issues like dumping or filling a wetland are more clear cut: without a permit, it’s illegal.

Where to Complain: Most concerns under this category should be addressed to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. You can file a complaint at (334) 271-7700 or online here. In the event the issue you are complaining about falls under the jurisdiction of a different agency, ADEM should point this out to you and assist you in finding the appropriate contact info. If you aren’t sure if certain water pollution is permitted or not, you can ask us for assistance at [email protected].

Fish Kill

When It’s an Issue: Death is of course part of the natural life cycle of fish, which means a dead fish here or there may not be cause for alarm. But, when there are dozens of dead fish in a concentrated area, there may be an issue. The more fish, or the greater diversity of species, the worse the fish kill is. The more game fish involved, the more seriously the government will take it. Fish kills can be caused by numerous things from chemical spills to low dissolved oxygen. As such, note any unusual conditions of the water or weather and the time of day.

Where to Complain: Take photographs and report fish kills immediately to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources 24-hour hotline at 1-800-272-4263. Let us know as well by emailing us at [email protected].

Invasive Weeds Or Algae On Lakes

When It’s an Issue: Weeds on the lake are an issue if the weeds are non-native and/or invasive, or create a navigational or safety issue. Some “weeds” are grasses which are actually great for the lake by providing fish habitat and increasing oxygen in the river. Sometimes bad algae like Lyngbya can grow on good grasses in the lake and must be treated.

Where to Complain: Alabama Power is responsible for managing weeds and algae on its lakes. Contact the Alabama Power Shoreline Management office to raise concerns about weeds at 1-800-LAKES-11.

Reckless Boating Or Abandoned Vessel

What’s Legal: It can be surprising what is legal when boating. There’s no speed limits on the river. And, outside of no wake zones, there’s not much you can do about boat wake, unless you can prove damages. Drinking while driving a boat is actually legal on the river as long as the driver is not legally drunk (except in dry counties such as Chilton Co. where it is illegal for anyone to drink on the boat, period). It is illegal is to drive recklessly, violate any boating laws, operate a vessel without a license or registration, drive under the influence, create wake in a no wake zone, or cause property or bodily injury. If you see a boater and think “What an idiot! That person is going to get someone hurt!” it’s time to call law enforcement!

Where to Complain: Lodge your non-emergency complaint with the Alabama Marine Police, a division of Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, at 1-800-272-7930. Lodge an emergency complaint about a reckless driver or injury by calling 911. For an abandoned vessel, you can contact the Marine Police at the phone number provided earlier and give them any registration number or decal number on the boat and they may be able to identify the owner.

Construction Run-Off

What’s Illegal: To clear a site of one acre or larger, a permit must be obtained from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Best Management Practices must be followed which includes things like maintaining silt fencing and not tracking soil into the road. You can find more information here.

Where to Complain: You can file a complaint with ADEM at (334) 271-7700 or online here. In some counties you may also be able to file a complaint with the county’s development or engineering office and they can sometimes address the issues faster and more effectively than ADEM. If you file a complaint with ADEM, please email us at [email protected] with your complaint number and we’ll follow up with the complaint on your behalf. 


What’s Legal: Loggers are required to follow Best Management Practices. These include things like keeping a 35′ buffer of trees between a clear cut and a stream. The Alabama Forestry BMP Manual goes into depth here. If you’re concerned about a logging site, read through the BMP manual and attempt to determine if all BMPs are being followed. If you are concerned that they are not, you should file a complaint.

Where to Complain: Call or e-mail your county’s forester with the Alabama Forestry Commission. Find their contact info by clicking on your county at this link. They will do an inspection to determine if all BMPs are being followed.

Failing Septic Systems Near Waterways

What’s Illegal: It is illegal for wastewater from a septic system to enter a waterbody.

Where to Complain: Lodge a complaint with the Alabama Department of Public Health. Find your county’s contact info here.