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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Black Warrior River placed on endangered list

Black Warrior River placed on endangered list


Staff file photo
The Black Warrior River has been placed on a list of the most endangered rivers in the country by the conservation group American Rivers.
By Lydia Seabol Avant Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 3:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 11:15 p.m.
TUSCALOOSA | A conservation group this week placed the Black Warrior River on a list of the most endangered rivers in the United States.
The list, published annually by the group American Rivers, doesn’t signify the most polluted rivers in the U.S., but instead identifies rivers that are at a turning point, said Eva Dillard, staff attorney for the Black Warrior Riverkeeper organization.
“It’s not that this river is lost, but it’s at a critical tipping point, and we all have an opportunity to impact what happens,” Dillard said.
The Black Warrior River and its tributaries are a major drinking water source for Birmingham, Jasper, Cullman and Tuscaloosa. The Black Warrior is a safe body of water that meets all clean water guidelines set by the state, said Scott Hughes, spokesman for the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
But some of its tributaries, including at least four in Tuscaloosa County and several others in Jefferson County, are included on what ADEM calls its 303D list, meaning the tributaries are impaired in some way.
“We conduct a tremendous amount of water quality monitoring, and part of that monitoring is utilized for the 303D list,” Hughes said.
Most of the reasons the tributaries are on the list are run-off-related impairments, such as chemicals picked up by rain water, Hughes said. 
In Tuscaloosa County, North River, which was dammed to create Lake Tuscaloosa, Big Yellow Creek, Pegues Creek and Daniel Creek are included on ADEM’s impaired list. Hurricane Creek, another tributary of the Black Warrior in Tuscaloosa County, has also been on that list recently, said John Wathen of the Friends of Hurricane Creek organization. The tributaries are vital to the health of the Black Warrior River, Wathen said.
“I’ve always been concerned with the water quality issue,” Wathen said. “Tributaries and the river affect each other in many ways.”
Part of the reason Hurricane Creek has been considered impaired is because of coal mining waste that has decreased the quality of water in Hurricane Creek, as well as in Pegues Creek, Wathen said. Old, abandoned mines in the area also have had a negative effect.
“The whole north end of Hurricane Creek has either been strip-mined or undermined,” Wathen said.
About 95 active coal mines operate in the Black Warrior River watershed under a general permit called Nationwide Permit 21 from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Dillard said that the permit does not take local wetlands and stream conditions into account, nor has the possible impact of the mines been studied.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper, a nonprofit advocacy organization, would like to see that change. In recent years the Corps of Engineers has suspended the use of Nationwide Permit 21 in many Appalachian states, but not in Alabama. The permit will come under review in 2012, Dillard said.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has wisely closed this dangerous mining loophole across the Appalachian coal mining region, except for Alabama,” said Gerrit Jobsis, southeast director for the American Rivers’ organization. “It’s time to give Alabama’s people, clean water and wildlife the protection they deserve.”
Reach Lydia Seabol Avant at 205-722-0222 or lydia.seabolavant@tuscaloosanews.com.


(Many of our Alabama Rivers are in peril. The main reason for the pollution issues in this state are Alabama Dep. of Environmental Management. ADEM issues permits that can not be enforced due to bogus surveys and lack of give a damn in the enforcement branch, John L. Wathen)