University of Alabama Faces More Pressure to Protect Drinking Water for Greater Birmingham

Today’s guest blog about the Black Warrior River— listed as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2013 and 2011— is from Charles Scribner, Executive Director of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper. The Black Warrior Riverkeeper is a citizen-based nonprofit organization dedicated to improving water quality, habitat, recreation, and public health throughout the Black Warrior River watershed.

Shepherd Bend, Black Warrior River, AL | © Nelson Brooke

Tell the University of Alabama to protect Birmingham’s water and say NO to the Shepherd Bend Mine | © Nelson Brooke

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The University of Alabama (UA) is still the major owner of land and mineral rights at the proposed Shepherd Bend Mine site across from a major drinking water supply for the greater Birmingham area on the Black Warrior River. Therefore, I recently emailed UA’s Trustees and administration two new letters from esteemed scientists who oppose this remarkably shortsighted mining proposal.

Dr. Robert L. Hopkins II, respected researcher of aquatic ecosystems, recently sent this letter [PDF] to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). Dr. Hopkins has close familial connections to the coal industry, yet still took a public stance against this threat to one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers and a major tap water source for Alabama’s biggest city.

Additionally, three preeminent researchers on water pollution from coal mines [PDF] recently wrote the following: “Despite our extensive collective experience regarding permit applications in the coalfields of West Virginia and Kentucky, the Shepherd’s Bend mine is the first mining permit application that we have seen immediately adjacent to a public drinking water supply. Given the extensive literature linking surface coal mining to a variety of human health problems with enormous associated public health costs, such activity seems particularly ill advised.”

Drummond Company’s subsidiary, Shepherd Bend, LLC, recently applied to renew its wastewater discharge permit, which ADEM has drafted: NPDES Permit No. AL0079162 [PDF]. ADEM had issued a wastewater discharge permit to Shepherd Bend, LLC, on July 21, 2008, but no mining ever started, and the permit’s five year term expired.

Dr. Hopkins’ letter directly addresses that new draft ADEM permit, but should also persuade UA to refuse to ever lease or sell land or minerals for mining at this uniquely inappropriate location. This 1,773-acre strip mine would discharge polluted water at 29 outfalls, including one that is 0.1 mile across the Black Warrior River’s Mulberry Fork from the Birmingham Water Works Board’s Mulberry Intake. Metals, sediment, and other pollutants discharged from the mine would lead to decreased source water quality and potentially increased water bills for consumers.

Given that ADEM’s own director has publicly admitted, “The state has made the decision that we will run a bare-bones environmental program,” I am not confident that ADEM will adequately consider the vast amount of scientific testimony experts have provided about Shepherd Bend. Instead, UA System leaders are likely the best hope 200,000 Birmingham-area water consumers have for this mine to be stopped.

I encourage all supporters of clean drinking water to sign American Rivers’ Shepherd Bend Mine petition to the UA System’s leaders. To learn more about the Shepherd Bend Mine proposal and how you can assist a large, diverse, and growing coalition’s efforts to oppose it, please visit Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s frequently updated Shepherd Bend Mine web page.

3 Responses to “University of Alabama Faces More Pressure to Protect Drinking Water for Greater Birmingham”

Carolyn S. Nevin

We have enough trouble in Alabama protecting our water supply. Consider the ongoing Water Wars among Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. To allow a mining permit so close to Birmingham’s drinking water supply is unconscionable. ADEM is not doing its job here.


It has nothing at all to do with ADEM…rather the politicians who dictate what can be done with our fresh water supplies…often politicians boast about bringing in so many new jobs, but it’s at the cost of destroying our environment by not protecting our environment according to existing regs.