The state has gone to “war” — or at least to court and to Congress — to protect its streams. And yet, according to reports compiled by the conservation group American Rivers, two of the nation’s most threatened and most vulnerable rivers fall within this state’s jurisdiction.
We share the responsibility for one of these, the Chattahoochee, with Georgia. That state, and particularly the metro Atlanta area, is most to blame for the stress being put on that stream and the aquatic life it sustains.
The other river is wholly our own.
The Black Warrior River is formed west of Birmingham where two smaller streams, Locust Fork and Mulberry Fork, meet. It is on the Mulberry Fork that the danger is greatest.
The Drummond mining company plans to operate a 1,773-acre coal mine at Shepherd Bend of the Mulberry Fork and discharge waste water into the stream about 800 feet from a major intake that supplies drinking water for the greater Birmingham area.
In order to begin operation, the company had to get permits from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the Alabama Surface Mining Commission, neither of which have a particularly good record in protecting water quality in the state. Drummond also has to lease the land under which the coal lies, and much of that land belongs to the University of Alabama.
The matter is far from settled.
Environmental groups and the city of Birmingham have lined up opposing the planned mine. On the other side is Drummond and the “jobs, jobs, jobs” advocates who see the economic advantages the mine would bring.
Caught in the middle is the board of trustees of the University of Alabama, which is getting considerable pressure from both sides, and the Black Warrior River, whose watershed is home for nearly 1 million residents. Those waters are home for 127 freshwater fish species, 36 mussel species and 15 turtle species, some of which are on the endangered species list.
It may be there, on the Black Warrior, that Alabama will show the nation just what it values most — the quality of its water and the health of its people or a business’s bottom line.