“Alabama Rivers: A Celebration and Challenge” By: William G. Deutsch

Aug 13, 2020

 

Credit Barnes and Noble

“Alabama Rivers: A Celebration and Challenge” 

Author: William G. Deutsch 

Publisher: Mindbridge Press  

Price: $27.00 (Paper) 

Pages: 227 

“Alabama Rivers” is one of the many books published in cooperation with the Alabama Bicentennial Commission. This volume is beautifully and profusely illustrated with photographs, maps, charts and drawings.  

William Deutsch, a retired Research Fellow from Auburn University, after a lifetime of studying Alabama freshwater and founding Alabama Water Watch in 1992, is highly qualified to give us this detailed picture of our rivers and a stern warning about how we must move more strongly to protect them. 

And there is a lot to protect. Alabama is fortunate when it comes to freshwater. We rank seventh among states in terms of miles of river but first in terms of stream miles per square miles of land area. The six other states, like California and Texas, are much bigger. More than 10 percent of all water in the lower 48 passes through Alabama. With more than 1,400 navigable river miles we are first in the U.S.A. Our 132,000 miles of streams would stretch around the earth five times. 

Towards the end of his study Deutsch warns the reader that 10 million pounds of chemicals—pesticides, heavy metals, mercury and lead—were dumped into our rivers in 2015. 250,000 pounds were chemicals known to cause reproductive issues. If traditionalist-minded Alabamians wish to prevent the widespread appearance of transsexual and bisexual fishes this must stop. 

Fifty thousand pounds of these chemicals were known carcinogens. Deutsch asserts: “Virtually all of this discharge was legally authorized by ADEM, Alabama’s grievously underfunded Department of Environmental Management.” 

Obviously, our state regulators are too permissive. So, Deutsch insists, regular citizens, in groups or even alone, must rise to this challenge. Help to clean a stream; educate yourself about local problems; support environmental groups local or statewide. 

“Alabama Rivers” is a serious book, not a fast read but an important one. The science is made understandable, and the material is organized in such a way as to take it one river system at a time. There are five: Tennessee; Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Alabama; Cahaba and Black Warrior; Tombigbee and Mobile Delta; and the Coastal Plain Rivers and Chattahoochee. (In Creek, “hoochee” means river and “hatchee” means small river or creek.) 

Our rivers teem with life. Alabama is number one in biodiversity among states east of the Mississippi, with 4,000 species of plants, 350 species of snails and mussels, 850 of vertebrates, and 330 of fish, more than anywhere else. 

Dr. E. O. Wilson has been reminding Alabamians of our duties for years and now, with Ben Raines, is focusing on the crucially important Mobile Delta, called America’s Amazon and one of America’s 10 most endangered rivers.  

Much of this material will arouse righteous anger. 

A good deal of it, though, is just wonderfully new and informative. 

Alabama was once underwater: thus the shark’s teeth, and the salt deposits which enable Black Belt farmers to grow shrimp.  

Alabama rivers and the rocks underpinning them are among the oldest in the world. The Cahaba has flowed perhaps for tens of millions of years. Deutsch acknowledges this information may go down hard among the half of Alabamians who believe the earth to be less than 10,000 years old. 

Deutsch tells us Native Americans who lived on streams put their dwellings on one side, their gardens on the other. An alligator was killed in the Alabama River weighing 1,011 pounds. A 330-pound sturgeon was caught in the Tallapoosa. 

Water in different watersheds is slightly different, with varying mineral deposits, for example. 

In Monroeville, where the water of the Coosa, Tallapoosa and (mainly) Alabama watershed was imbibed by many fine writers such as Truman Capote, Harper Lee, Mark Childress, Cynthia Tucker and others, one can buy bottled water which may or may not nourish literary genius. 

Of course, hydrology is not destiny. The waters of the Chattahoochie were drunk by George Wallace, Sidney Lanier, Hank Williams and the Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton.  

The Tombigbee was drunk by Elvis Aaron Presley and E. O. Wilson. 

Results may vary. 

There is hardly a page without some news. The conventional wisdom is you cannot step into the same river twice. On the other hand, since no new water is ever created, just cycled through evaporation, then rain, we drink the same water the dinosaurs drank, from the same rivers. 

Don Noble’s newest book is Alabama Noir, a collection of original stories by Winston Groom, Ace Atkins, Carolyn Haines, Brad Watson, and eleven other Alabama authors.