Environmental Success Stories from US South: Magnolia Springs, Alabama River Protection

"I'm a tree hugging, liberal - I mean a tree hugging conservative republican! Which I know some people may say is an oxymoron. But..." That's Charlie Houser. He's mayor of Magnolia Springs, Alabama. It's a small town of about 8,000 residents down by Mobile. Magnolia Springs is just as lovely as its name. Huge live oaks canopy the main street. But the rest action is on the river. Houser fires up his pontoon boat to give me a tour. Magnolia Springs is the only place in the U.S. with full-time mail delivery by boat. "We have had flooding where you have to call somebody and say, I got your bill but I couldn't read it cause it was wet!" Houser grew up here. When he moved back to retire, he worried about what he saw. "I didn't see the sea grass. We lost blue crabs, we lost pike." He blames agricultural runoff full of chemicals. So, when the town incorporated four years ago one of the first things mayor Houser and the mostly republican town council did was pass some of the toughest land use rules in the south. All new buildings have to set back 75 feet from the river. New subdivisions have to keep their run-off on site. The town has spent more than a quarter million dollars on a comprehensive plan and creating an Environmental Protection Committee. And it's working, says councileman Ken Underwood. "We started having brown pelicans showing back up. And today all the pelicans you see around, that's a wonderful site. That's a sign that the river is in better shape on a chemical basis. Look at the cormorants up in the treetops there. Beautiful site!" Beautiful, and profitable. Today, Magnolia Springs economic engine is tourism and the revitalized river plays a big role in that.

Tanya Ott, "Southern Environmentalism," WBHM, Feb. 25, 2010. http://www.wbhm.org/News/2010/southernenvironmentalism.html [verified 4/17/14]