Mobile’s Steel Magnolia Turns Red to Green | Casi Callaway, Mobile Baykeeper - Waterkeeper

Mobile’s Steel Magnolia Turns Red to Green | Casi Callaway, Mobile Baykeeper

By: Ellen Simon

“You go big or go home. We went big.”

Casi Callaway
“I signed up to do this work because of what I love. I love our beaches, I love Mobile Bay.”

By Ellen Simon.

Photos by ©Andy Levin, courtesy of Culture Trip.

用中文阅读 / Read in Chinese

Casi Callaway couldn’t have told you what day of the week it was — Sunday, Thursday, it didn’t really matter — but she knew what number day of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill it was.

The days were the same, pretty much from Day 8 to Day 87, when the spill stopped. She’d go to sleep at one or two in the morning, convinced she hadn’t done enough that day. She’d wake up at 4 a.m., swing her feet to the floor, and then start pounding through a welter of emails. At 7 a.m., she’d kiss her two-and-a-half-year-old son and go to the office, spinning through phone calls, meetings, messages. Back home around 6 p.m., she’d spend two hours with her son and husband, then answer emails until one or two in the morning, when she’d fall asleep with the same thought:

“I didn’t do enough.”

Eleven men were reported missing on Day One, April 20, 2010. Within days, it became clear that all 11 were dead. What wasn’t immediately obvious was that the environmental costs would be just as high, that this would be the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

Casi’s first sense of that came on Day 6, with an unexpected call from Alabama’s acting environmental commissioner. He told her that the spill wasn’t much more than “a teaspoon in 18 Olympic-size swimming pools.” That just didn’t ring true to her.

She sent an email to the Waterkeeper listerv on Day 8. The first return email came from Bob Shavelson, the Cook Inletkeeper in Alaska, who had worked the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.

“Everything they say, multiply it by five,” Shavelson wrote.

That day, British Petroleum, which owned Deepwater Horizon, and the Unified Command team of government and company representatives responding to the spill said it was releasing 5,000 gallons of oil a day. “I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s 25,000 gallons a day,’” Casi recalls. “Before a day had passed, they admitted it was 25,000 gallons a day.

I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s 125,000 gallons a day.’”

“I signed up to do this work because of what I love. I loved our beaches, I loved Mobile Bay,” she says. “I didn’t really know that you could lose something forever, until then. That was the first time I faced – we could really lose everything, all the way.”


Casi had a lifetime of memories floating in those waters. She’d grown up in South Alabama, spending sunburned summers as a child on the Gulf Shore’s beaches, bare feet in sugar sand, falling asleep still feeling the rocking of the waves. As a teenager, she’d explored Mobile Bay and, occasionally, the delta’s maze of flues and bayous and embayments.

Following her boyfriend’s lead at Emory University in Atlanta, she joined an environmental group. He discouraged her, saying, “You have a sorority and this is my thing. You’ll last for five minutes, then you’ll move on.” (He’s a banker now.)

During her junior year in 1989, she took on planning for the university’s Earth Day celebration. “For me, sweet home South Alabama girl, I thought, ‘I can host a party,’” she says.

“When we joined Waterkeeper Alliance, I realized I had a larger family and they gave me the tools I needed to better understand our issues and translate them for our politically conservative climate.”

Earth Day’s national campus coordinator, Owen Byrd, saw more than that in her, and encouraged her to become the event’s Southeast regional coordinator, working to ensure that every campus in a five-state area held an Earth Day event.

She dove into the work. “Got my first migraine,” she says.

“Made my first C.”

The result: 30 Earth Day events on her region’s campuses, one at every major college and university. Right then and there she knew what she wanted to be.

After graduation, she worked for six years at Clean Water Action in Washington, D.C., before moving back to the Mobile area and being hired as the first full-time director of Mobile Bay Watch, on August 1, 1998.

She knew that she faced a different kind of battle in her politically conservative, industry-minded hometown. “People down here didn’t like the word ‘environmentalist,’” she recalls, “but many of them were proud conservationists who were hunters and fishermen, with families who spent their summers on Mobile Bay. It was just a matter of showing people that we were all on the same team, whether or not they realized it at the time.”

In September 1999, Mobile Bay Watch joined Waterkeeper Alliance, and changed its name to Mobile Baykeeper.

“When we joined Waterkeeper Alliance,” says Casi, “I realized I had a larger family and they gave me the tools I needed to better understand our issues and translate them for our politically conservative climate.”

Shortly afterward, Rick Dove, then the Neuse Riverkeeper and now senior adviser at Waterkeeper Alliance, traveled down from North Carolina to conduct a site-visit.

Like her, Dove, who a few years earlier had retired as a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps, was a Southern conservative, and she sought his advice regarding a conflict over a proposed local steel mill, telling him she didn’t want to be the one to kill jobs.

“I told her, ‘What you always need to do is visit the bay and ask — what do you want me to do? That’s where you get your answer,’” says Dove. “’Your job isn’t to fight for jobs. Your job is to fight for Mobile Bay. If you don’t step up and do something, then who’s going to?’”

Nearly 17 years later, Casi evokes these words as a mantra whenever she encounters opposition.

Such inspiration and encouragement helped carry Mobile Baykeeper through some significant milestones. In 1999, it filed its first lawsuit, against the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System (MAWSS), for violations of the Clean Water Act, after Baykeeper discovered that the sewer system had been spilling 2.5 million gallons of raw sewage into the bay annually.

“One of the very first things we knew we were going to have to deal with was sewage,” says Casi. “Sewage spills kept occurring because MAWSS was putting Band-Aids on the system and not making the types of upgrades that were critical to prevent more spills.”

After nearly two years of negotiations, the parties reached a settlement that markedly improved the way MAWSS would operate. Under the settlement, the agency was required to make a significant investment to upgrade infrastructure, an amount that has now reached more than $200 million.

Remarkably, what had started with a lawsuit eventually became a partnership.

Shortly after the settlement, the two organizations joined in a fight against the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT), which had proposed construction of a new highway that would cross 13 streams within the Big Creek Lake Reservoir, Mobile’s primary source of drinking water.

“The whole situation was a giant mess,” says Casi. “They hadn’t even conducted an environmental-impact statement and were allowing massive amounts of red clay to be dumped in our drinking-water supply.”

The partnership finally settled with ALDOT in 2007, exacting tightened rules regarding the amount of dirt that could be uncovered while building new roads, and imposing more stringent statewide stormwater regulations.

“Collaboration has been behind every successful campaign we have won,” Casi says. “This was such a unique scenario, that, despite being in a previous lawsuit with MAWSS, we were able to work together and win a huge battle that saved the drinking-water supply for hundreds of thousands of our citizens.”

“When Casi started, it was a huge uphill battle,” says Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson. “Today, because of her hard work and dedication, all the stakeholders work together well on clean-water issues.”

Rick Dove has visited Casi often since their first meeting. A skilled photographer, he even shot her wedding photos. “She just does not quit,” he says, “That’s not blood running through her veins, it’s water, Mobile Bay water.”


On Day 12 of the Deepwater Horizon spill, Casi left home at dawn to be interviewed on the beach by CNN. She was still going at midnight, stumbling bleary-eyed through a grocery store as she talked on the phone with Marc Yaggi, Waterkeeper Alliance’s deputy director at the time and now executive director, strategizing about how they could get her in the room where the decisions about the clean up were being made.

Yaggi flew to New Orleans on Day 13 on three hours’ sleep, and then drove across Mississippi to Mobile with Justin Bloom, an environmental lawyer who’s now the Suncoast Waterkeeper in southwest Florida.

Casi Callaway on Mobile Bay.
Casi Callaway on Mobile Bay.

Their goal was to get Casi into “Incident Command,” where officials from federal and state agencies, such as the Coast Guard, NOAA, EPA and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and the representative from the responsible party (in this case, BP) worked to plan, implement and fund a response.

As is usually the case — chillingly — the responsible party had taken the lead. The last person they wanted in the room was a local environmental leader. For a few days, Casi was refused entry by security guards hired by BP but, with Yaggi’s help, she was in Incident Command by Day 17.

Looking around, Casi sussed out what she was up against. “Not a one of them was from here,” she says. “Didn’t know what to do with us. Didn’t know what needed to be protected. Didn’t know what was an important species.” The representative from the state’s environmental agency was seated, symbolically, in the farthest back corner.

“Everything felt guided by BP or the feds,” she says. “They hadn’t checked to see if the oil dispersant was toxic. What did it do to subsurface species? What would it do when mixed with oil? What would it do to the air? There were so many incredible people working for EPA, but they didn’t know. They still don’t know.”

She was kicked out of Incident Command three times: twice early on and, a final time, about two weeks later. She was asking too many questions and sharing too much information with the public. The last time, the colonel told her, “You need to decide if you want to be in here or not. I think you need to be out there where you can speak freely.” She didn’t come back.


Everything around Casi was reshaped. She returned to a hyperactive office where the four full-timer staffers were working twice as hard and the two part-timers were working full-time. She worked 80-hour weeks. Her husband picked up everything else, running their home, becoming their son’s primary caregiver.

Even a toddler could sense that things were off-kilter. Her son had spent weekends at the beach since birth. She hadn’t discussed the oil spill with him; how would she even begin? But he knew she wasn’t around and that something bad had happened to their cherished waters.

“He looked at me one day,” Casi recalls, “and said, ‘The beach is over, Mommy?’”

During those months, Mobile Baykeeper’s tireless response and restoration plan drew national attention, as well as financial support that allowed it to double its budget and staff. It recruited hundreds of volunteers, armed them with GPS units and phone-sized video cameras, and trained them to patrol one-mile grids of the bay in kayaks to painstakingly document the effects of the spill. It still runs annual beach checks and trains volunteers to alert Baykeeper and the National Response Center Hotline with concerns.

Today, Mobile Baykeeper is more than double the size it was on Day One of the spill, with 10 full-time staff, seven part-timers and a budget of almost $1 million.

For Casi, the big lesson of the Deepwater Horizon disaster was, “You rearrange, you recreate, you rebuild. You go big or go home. We went big.”

More than eight years after the spill, Baykeeper is still very much engaged in restoration efforts throughout coastal Alabama.

“We have a lot of money coming to the Gulf Coast that needs to be spent wisely on projects that restore and enhance what was lost,” says Casi. “We’re working hard to make sure that the majority of funds go toward projects that will make us resilient enough to withstand the next disaster, manmade or natural. I see it as my job to remind people that it happened, that it’s not over, that we have more work to do.”

Ellen Simon is the Advocacy Writer at Waterkeeper Alliance.


阿拉巴马州的之星 | Casi Callaway, Mobile 护湾者

作者:Ellen Simon

翻译者:Katherine Olson

照片: ©Andy Levin, courtesy of Culture Trip.



Casi Callaway说不出来今天具体是星期几 – 星期天,星期四,其实无所谓 – 但是,她总知道今天是Deepwater Horizon石油泄漏事件的第几天。





第八天,她向护水者邮件名单发了邮件。第一封回信由阿拉斯加州Cook护海峡者Bob Shavelson发送。1989年,他的工作包括Exxon Valdez石油泄漏的相关任务。


当天,Deepwater Horizon的所有者英国石油以及负责石油泄漏反应工作的政府、公司代表团队说了每天石油排放量为5000加仑。Casi回想,“我对自己说,‘我的天,每日排放25万加仑。不到一天之后,他们承认,实际上每天的排放量为2.5万加仑。


她说,“我报名做这些工作是因为我所热爱的事情。我爱我们的海滩。我爱Mobile海湾。那个时候,我才知道你有可能永远失去一个东西。石油泄漏发生的时候,我第一次面临这种可能 – 我们真的可以失去一切,彻底失去一切。”





地球日的国家校园协调员Owen Byrd看出来了Casi的潜能远不仅如此,鼓励她成为活动的东南地区协调员。作为协调员,Casi努力确保南部地区的五个州的每所大学都举办了地球日活动。”








不久之后,曾任Neuse护河者Rick Dove(现在是护水者联盟高级顾问)从北卡过来进行现场考察。








达成法律协议不久之后,两个组织合为一体,一起反抗阿拉巴马交通部(ALDOT)修建新的高速公路的计划。如果做成了的话,这条公路将穿过Mobile地区的主要饮水源Big Creek Lake水库的13条小溪。




Mobile市长Sandy Stimpson说,“当Casi刚当上这个角色的时候,她的工作是非常困难的。现在,由于她勤奋的态度和决心,所有利益相关者在清洁水相关问题都有良好的合作关系。”

自从第一次见面之后,Rick Dove有多次拜访Casi。他非常擅长摄影,还做过Casi的婚纱照摄影师。他说,“她不肯放弃。她血管流淌的不是血,流的就是水,是Mobile海湾的水。”


在Deepwater Horizon石油泄漏事件发生的第12天,Casi在凌晨的时候离开家,准备在沙滩上被CNN采访。晚上十二点,她还没放下手上的工作,眼睛几乎睁不开还在超市里购物,同时跟护水者联盟当时的副主任(现在任执行主任)Marc Yaggi通电话。两个人在电话里里谈论战略,怎么样才能给Casi机会进入做清理石油的相关决策的会议室。

第13天,Yaggi先生只睡了三个小时就起来,飞到了New Orleans市。落地后他跟现任弗罗里达西南部Suncoast护水者的环境律师Justin Bloom一起从密西西比州自驾至Mobile市。

Casi Callaway on Mobile Bay.
Casi Callaway在Mobile海湾












对Casi来说,Deepwater Horizon灾难是她吸取的最大的教训是,“你重新整理、创造、建立。要么别去,要么大干一场。我们大干了一场。”