Cahaba Riverkeeper’s mission is to defend the ecological integrity of the Cahaba, its tributaries and watershed and to ensure clean water, a healthy aquatic environment, and the recreational and aesthetic values of the river. The Cahaba watershed is monitored to identify violations of clean water legislation. If notification to the violator and appropriate authorities fails to produce action, remedial and legal action is pursued to protect this unique natural resource and drinking water supply.
Cahaba Riverkeeper’s priority issues include:
Numerous federal reports, regional studies, and state and local conservation organizations recognize increased sedimentation from non-point source pollution, primarily from development in the upper Cahaba basin, as the primary threat to water quality and species diversity in the Cahaba River. When surface sediments are disturbed during construction activities, nutrients often follow sediments in runoff. Sedimentation reduces available dissolved oxygen and the runoff of nutrients increases algae bloom; both types of runoff add to the assault on species survival.
In 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) documented findings that sedimentation and nutrient loading were adversely affecting the biology of the Cahaba.17 There has been on official survey in the ensuing years. Since 2002, numerous instances of sedimentation disturbance have occurred in the Cahaba, especially in the headwaters of the watershed where development is increasing. After a sufficient rain (>0.50 inches) in the headwaters, the river at the Highway 280 bridge crossing often requires five to seven days to recover from turbid conditions.
As a result of the persistent lack of enforcement of clean water laws by ADEM, many private citizens have turned to the legal system for relief from the impacts on their enjoyment of the Cahaba River, costing both plaintiffs and defendants money and resources. Some non-profit conservation organizations, Cahaba Riverkeeper among them, actively advocate against adverse sedimentation and turbidity impacts from construction in the upper Cahaba. Cahaba Riverkeeper also advocates for ADEM reform and tighter EPA oversight for the administration of Alabama’s water quality enforcement program.
Almost four dozen municipal plants treat wastewater from homes, schools, and businesses and then discharge the effluent into the Cahaba. In increasing numbers, self-contained, packaged sewage treatment plants, serving residential subdivisions and commercial developments, are also proliferating in the area. Several industries also have permits to dispose treated wastewater into the river. Discharges of treated wastewater have increased over the last two decades in this high-growth area. The river also receives discharge from storm water drainage systems throughout the watershed.2-3, 6-7,10
Fifteen wastewater treatment plants in the upper Cahaba Basin above Centerville, Alabama, are permitted by ADEM to discharge more than 41 million gallons per day of treated wastewater into the river. (See Maps) The wastewater treatment systems along the Cahaba each day discharge treated, partially treated and raw sewage (e.g., during storm sewer overflow) to the flow of the river. Discharge from treatment plants are why pathogens in many of the upper sections of the river are named as negative impacts to water quality on the ADEM 303(d) impaired waters list.
Farm animals, with access to the river and its primary tributaries, can also contribute pathogens, especially in the lower Cahaba where agriculture is more prevalent.
Uniquely, Cahaba Riverkeeper tests, documents and disseminates information on bacteriological pollution through social media outlets for rapid communication to the general public.