Birmingham, Ala. —Pollution caused by coal mining near the Black Warrior River has landed the river on the annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ – a report issued by the conservation group American Rivers.
The Black Warrior River and its tributaries are a major drinking water source for Birmingham, Jasper, Cullman and Tuscaloosa. The headwaters of the Black Warrior River include the federally designated Wild and Scenic Sipsey Fork, which, along with the river’s Mulberry and Locust Forks, is rated among the top 2% of United States streams by the National Park Service. The river, known for fishing, boating, commercial navigation, recreation, and wildlife, also runs through the Warrior Coal Field where most of Alabama’s coal reserves are found.
For many years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has allowed the majority of the Black Warrior River watershed’s approximately 95 active coal mines to operate under a general permit known as Nationwide Permit (NWP) 21. NWP 21 does not take local wetland and stream conditions into account, study the possible impacts of the mines or provide for public input. This situation contrasts with the process in other Appalachian states, where the Corps last year suspended the use of NWP 21 to require more careful consideration of a mine’s impacts on water resources and the environment.
“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has wisely closed this dangerous mining loophole across the Appalachian coal mining region – except for Alabama,” said Gerrit Jobsis, American Rivers’ Southeast Regional Director. “It’s time to give Alabama’s people, clean water, and wildlife the protection they deserve.”
Eva Dillard, staff attorney for Black Warrior Riverkeeper, agrees: “Under NWP 21, the Corps has allowed numerous mines to operate in our watershed with no consideration of their cumulative impacts on water quality or the environment. With NWP 21 up for possible renewal in 2012, now is the time to tell the Corps to end the use of this rubber stamp in Alabama.”
Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke states, “Our wetlands and headwater tributary streams are critical conveyors of clean water, controllers of runoff and flooding, and providers of fish and wildlife habitat. Their loss under NWP 21 hurts the river, local communities, fishermen and sportsmen, and ultimately the state.
American Rivers is calling on the Corps to discontinue the use of NWP 21 and include Alabama in all protective guidance and regulations that apply to Appalachian region mining. Ending the use of NWP 21 in Alabama would force the Corps to consider the cumulative impact of mines on the Black Warrior River and allow local people to voice their concerns.
American Rivers also called on the Alabama Department of Environmental Management and Alabama Surface Mining Commission to strengthen coal mining permits and enforcement efforts. Additionally, these agencies should collaborate with the Corps to address the cumulative effects of mining on the river.
About America’s Most Endangered Rivers
For 26 years, American Rivers has sounded the alarm on 360 rivers through our America’s Most Endangered Rivers report. The report is not a list of the “worst” or most polluted rivers, but is a call to action for rivers at a crossroads, whose fates will be determined in the coming year. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
American Rivers’ staff and scientific advisors review nominations for the following criteria:
- A major decision that the public can help influence in the coming year
- The significance of the river to people and wildlife
- The magnitude of the threat, especially in light of climate change
For the third consecutive year, America's Most Endangered Rivers™ is sponsored by The Orvis Company, which donates 5% of their pre-tax profits annually to protect nature.
Black Warrior Riverkeeper is a citizen-based nonprofit advocacy organization whose mission is to protect and restore the Black Warrior River and its tributaries. A member of Waterkeeper Alliance, Black Warrior Riverkeeper won Alabama Environmental Council’s 2007 Conservation Organization of the Year and American Canoe Association’s 2008 Green Paddle Award. Nelson Brooke, Riverkeeper, won Alabama Rivers Alliance’s 2010 River Hero Award.
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.