Best in Shoals: The Cahaba River

I was most surprised on my Cahaba River canoe trips by the amazing amount of wildlife in and around the river. Every time Randy Haddock, the Cahaba River Society’s biologist, dipped a net into the water to show us river creatures, he pulled out an abundance of various snails, mussels, fish, and crawfish. Shiny, colorful dragonflies and damselflies darted around us all day. Each stop along the shoals became a treasure hunt for one of the many rare species of river fauna.

My astonishment is corroborated by statistics; the Cahaba contains more fish species per mile than any other river in North America. The river also holds the most snail and mussel species in the world. Rare plant life abounds as well; the shoals and glades host a variety of uncommon and endangered plant species, including the Cahaba Lilly, depicted at the center of my painting.

Unfortunately, the Cahaba River is also considered to be one of the top ten most endangered rivers in North America. Problems such as urbanization, soil erosion from forest clear-cutting, pesticide run-off from agriculture, and toxin discharge from mining and industry threaten aquatic life and affect one of the largest supplies of drinking water in the state. Birmingham receives over half its water supply from the Cahaba.

Organizations such as the Cahaba River Society and the Freshwater Land Trust are working to protect the Cahaba. Go to www.cahabariversociety.org and www.freshwaterlandtrust.org for more information.

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