Current Status: ARA is actively engaged in hydropower relicensing efforts on the R.L. Harris Dam on the Tallapoosa River and in the ongoing Coosa River dam relicensing projects.

Dams disconnect and fragment our rivers, often with severe consequences for aquatic species and river recreationists. As a stark example of the impacts dams can have on our rivers, one of the largest modern extinction events in North American history occurred in Alabama over the course of the 20th century when nearly 40 species of freshwater snails and mussels were driven extinct or extirpated after seven hydroelectric dams converted much of the Coosa River from a flowing riverine ecosystem to a series of still, deep reservoirs. 

Dams and the reservoirs they form are used by humans for water supply, hydroelectric generation, navigation, and other purposes, but these societal benefits come at a cost to our natural river ecosystems.  In addition to impacting ecological health, they also impede our rivers ability to perform its vital natural functions like cleaning pollutants from our water and moving sediment downstream.  

The Alabama Rivers Alliance works to prevent new dams from being built in Alabama as well as to mitigate and restore the impacts from existing dams in through the following projects:

  • Dam mapping and assessment for dam removal opportunities. Click here to see where dams are in Alabama.
  • Alabama River Fish Passage
    • The US Army Corps of Engineers is currently conducting a feasibility study to examine how to provide fish passage around its Claiborne and Millers Ferry locks and dams on the Alabama River. Creating permanent fish passage around these dams, or removing them altogether and thereby reconnecting the Cahaba River to the Gulf of Mexico, would be a monumental ecological achievement and would help restore some of the most aquatically biodiverse waters in the nation. The Nature Conservancy in Alabama is providing the non-federal matching funds for this important feasibility study, and we, at the Alabama Rivers Alliance are supporting the public outreach and public comment portion of the project. You can read more from TNC about the project here. Also check out Southern Science’s River, Interrupted article quoting ARA’s Cindy Lowry.
  • Hydropower LicensingARA engages in the licensing processes for hydropower dams to help restore and reconnect rivers harmed by dams.
  • Dam Safety – Alabama is the only state in the nation without a dam safety program. Our state legislature has taken a tiny step in that direction with recent legislation.  We are monitoring this effort and will continue to advocate for a more robust dam safety program.


Mussel Memory

Watch our Southern Exposure short documentary about how dams have completely altered the species makeup, flows, and habitat of many of our most important river systems. In Alabama, home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the nation, Claiborne and Miller’s Ferry Locks and Dams have prevented migratory fish, like the sturgeon and Alabama Shad, from accessing their historic runs from the Gulf of Mexico up the Alabama River to their spawning grounds in the Cahaba River since they were built in the 1970s. These barriers have also left endangered and threatened mussels unable to reproduce and in peril of dying out. MUSSEL MEMORY explores the significance of reconnecting river systems and protecting Alabama’s freshwater mussels, our natural water filtration system. Join scientists, conservationists, engineers and anglers as they fight to restore fish passage along the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers.

A project of this magnitude would culminate in the most ecologically significant river reconnection project in the history of the United States, right here in Alabama.

Birmingham to the Gulf

For over 100 years, Alabama’s rivers have been put to work with dams and navigation locks–sometimes with high ecological costs. As these structures age and with some no longer serving their original purpose, the idea of reconnecting rivers becomes a realistic possibility. In looking comprehensively at river management decisions and questioning the impacts of dams on Alabama’s waterways, its wildlife and its people, the vitality and biodiversity of connecting Birmingham to the Gulf is imagined.