The Coosa River

CoosaValleyofAlabama2014The Coosa Valley, rich in aquatic biodiversity and natural beauty, is the one of the most developed rivers in Alabama – The River State. From its headwaters in Georgia and Tennessee the Coosa flows to Alabama where a series of impoundments cover the magnificent shoals that so famously dominated the Coosa in the steamboat era. Unfortunately, the impoundments changed stream ecology to lake ecology, killing dozens of species that once thrived in shoal habitat. As the most aquatically biodiverse subwatershed of the Mobile River Basin, the fourth largest basin in the country in terms of streamflow, the Coosa Valley deserves protection from threats that could further degrade its remarkable character.The Valley is steeped in history, having been ruled by the Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee while being claimed, alternately, by the Spanish, French (who considered the Coosa and Alabama Rivers the “key to the country”) and British. The United States then took up arms to defend the Native Americans claims to the Coosa, before eventually forcing them out, making them walk the Trail of Tears before allowing them back onto reserves. The riverboat era and decades of King Cotton were a way of life that inspired the creation of Popeye the Sailorman. Unfortunately, the history of environmental injustices in the Coosa Valley is of equal magnitude.

On June 2, 2010 the American Rivers environmental group rated the Coosa as the tenth most endangered river in the United States. The main threat, the group said, was hydropower dams. 36 species were pushed into extinction when Alabama Power impounded the river for hydroelectric power in the 20th century. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, this is the greatest modern extinction event in the history of North America. Historically, the river was habitat for 147 species of fish, 91 species of snail (82 endemic, 34 total extinct), 53 species of mussels (11 endemic, 6 extinct, 5 of which were endemic).

Perhaps more tragic, the world’s first commercial polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) facility began producing the persistent and bioaccumulative chemical here in 1929, continuing operations until 1971, yet leaving behind a mess that will have impacts on the river for centuries.

The Coosa is a victim of myriad abuses, reflected in the 14 EPA Superfund sites and the 15 fish consumption advisories up and down the river on striped bass and catfish.

In Gadsden, downtown residents live just downstream from a coal-fired power plant. Sadly, the drinking water intake for at least 20,000 Alabamians is less than a miles float downstream of the coal ash pond discharge. In Anniston, a toxic town with dirty secrets is still suffering the effects of a half-century of PCB production.

The history and beauty so ingrained in our lives is why, as our state motto says, “we dare defend our rights.” Journeying down the river, from beautiful Lookout Mountain, past Talladega National Forest, and just past the “rumbling water” of Wetumpka, the river takes on a new name, the Alabama. In that place where the Coosa meets the Tallapoosa we find Montgomery, a stage for the Confederacy in the 19th century and Civil Rights in the 20th century. Fitting that our journey downriver should end, after charging over roaring rapids, at such a historic battleground that will be the 21st century stage for the fight to protect the Coosa and its citizens from further harm while we begin a long, delicate period to restore her to her former glory so that our pride will live on through future generations.

Our organization has come together to protect the Coosa River. We use research, advocacy and outreach to protect and restore the mighty Coosa River of Alabama.