Editor’s note: This story is an example of the quality journalism you’ll find in each issue of Lakeside Living, a monthly magazine and product of The Daily Home.
Dr. Bill Deutsch loves rivers, and he loves talking to people who live on them.
“Most people I know who live on rivers, especially if they’ve grown up on or around them, have deep emotional connections to their water,” said the research fellow emeritus of Auburn University’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences. “They have fond memories of fishing, baptisms, swimming holes and just hanging out.”
Many of those memories river residents have shared with Deutsch have made their way into his book, “Alabama Rivers: A Celebration & Challenge.” It prominently features the Coosa River, and he brought some of the stories and memories the book recounts to a recent meeting of the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association (LMLPA).
“I’ve traveled the state and learned a lot about rivers from the people who live on them,” he said. “I stayed in their homes, I heard their stories and I listened to their memories. Alabama is a river state – rivers are represented in our state seal and our license plates – and rivers are very much a part of the culture of Alabama.”
“Alabama Rivers: A Celebration & Challenge” is available at www.alabamariversbook.org in softcover, glassy hardcover and hardcover with dust jacket. Epub and mobi digital formats are also available.
Prior to speaking to the LMLPA, Deutsch talked with Lakeside Living about the book, its contents and his personal love for rivers.
What led you to write the book?
“With the state’s bicentennial arriving, it was time to tell about the people, places and stories that will guide us into our third century. It’s impossible to do that without a consideration of the vital role rivers have played in our state’s history. Rivers figure prominently in our music, our art, our photography. You don’t have to look too far for some kind of river story. Our rivers are special places – very special – and we need to take care of them. They are our gateway into our third century.”
What are some of the challenges facing Alabama’s rivers?
“Pollution and toxins, certainly. We’ve learned that pharmaceuticals are in the water a lot more than we realized, because of ways drugs were disposed of in the past. Erosion and sediment – soil moving when it shouldn’t – are also a challenge.”
Has there been a growing interest in recent years in conserving the state’s water resources?
“I definitely think so. Groups like the LMLPA are helping a lot, especially since the early 1990s, when a big change in thinking began. I wish that interest had already extended to the policy makers in Montgomery.”
Does the book discuss the political aspects of rivers and their preservation?
“Two-thirds of the book is about the cultural aspect of rivers. Part three is about protecting them. I couldn’t avoid politics altogether. Water policy either works or it doesn’t work, and Alabama is one of the last states in the country not to have a comprehensive water policy. The Southeast is water rich, which is why we’re seeing water wars brewing. Water flows over state boundaries, raising the issue of who owns the right to use it. And it isn’t a tree-hugger issue, it’s one that affects economics and people’s livelihoods.”
What can people who love the Coosa River and Logan Martin Lake do to help protect them?
“Become associated with groups like the LMLPA and the Alabama River Alliance. There are dozens of ways you can become involved. And even if you don’t have time to get involved directly in river restoration or promoting water policy, there are still plenty of ways you can support the efforts.”
How did you develop your love for rivers?
“I grew up around the Great Lakes, and my love for water dates back to being with dad, Vincent Peter Deutsch. He was a blue collar worker with a ninth-grade education, and he loved the water. He made a dip net for me, and we would take it down to the shore and catch crayfish and frogs. He dug a pond in our backyard and really fanned the flames in me that led me to my work, which has been so much fun.”
Lakeside Living is free, and copies can be picked up at The Daily Home’s offices in Talladega and Pell City and at fine retailers throughout The Daily Home’s coverage area. The December issue will be available online Dec. 1 and in print Dec. 4.