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Cahaba River

Date Published: January 29, 2002

Cahaba River

Jerry Moss

Fisheries Supervisor
Northport, Alabama

The Cahaba River is special in a state with many unique rivers. The diversity of the Cahaba River's fish population is greater than any other temperate river its size. Recognized as a unique river in Alabama, the Cahaba has received attention from environmentalists throughout the nation. It is the longest free-flowing river in Alabama and has a wide diversity of plants and fishes due to its variety of physical habitats and ecology. Flowing through the Birmingham area in the heart of Alabama, the river attracts many canoeists and kayakers. It also offers recreational opportunities in the form of fishing, rafting and bird watching for many outdoor enthusiasts.

One hundred thirty-five fish species are known to occur in the Cahaba River and its tributaries. Several rare fish found in the Cahaba River have been assigned special conservation status. This group includes the Cahaba shiner, goldline darter, Alabama sturgeon, frecklebelly madtom, crystal darter and freckled darter. In addition to rare fish species, the Cahaba River supports many popular native sportfish species such as largemouth bass and spotted bass, bluegill, longear sunfish, crappie, chain pickerel, and many others. There are two sub-species of spotted bass, and the spotted bass in the Cahaba River are called Alabama spotted bass. Alabama spotted bass grow much larger than their northern cousin does. Channel catfish, flathead catfish, and blue catfish are among the most popular non-game fish caught in the Cahaba River.

Until recently, most of the area around the Cahaba River Basin was relatively undeveloped. Growth and expansion of the Birmingham metropolitan area into both Jefferson and Shelby Counties have significantly impacted the upper basin. The Cahaba River watershed drains an area of approximately 1,825 square miles in central Alabama and is the primary water source for Birmingham Water Works, which serves a quarter of Alabama’s citizens. Wastewater discharges, siltation, pesticides and herbicide residues have degraded water quality in this once pristine river.

The Cahaba River has been an important source of recreational opportunities for the people of Alabama for many years. It receives the heaviest recreational use of any free-flowing river in the state. Due to its scenic and recreational value, the river has been proposed for designation as a National Wild and Scenic River. These efforts were unsuccessful, but in 2000, a national law was passed to purchase 3,500 acres for a Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge in Bibb County. In 2001, the first money was appropriated and land was purchased from willing sellers. The refuge includes three and a half miles of the Cahaba River. Organizations such as the Alabama Nature Conservancy and the Cahaba River Society continue to promote efforts to protect the Cahaba River in additional ways through various conservation groups and agencies.

The Cahaba River is one of Alabama’s most precious natural resources. The river provides recreation to many anglers, botanists, canoeists, hikers and wildlife watchers. As demands increase for development and water withdrawals in the future, it is up to the people of Alabama to ensure that the Cahaba River is protected for generations to come.

For more information see our Cahaba River link page.

Cahaba lilies copyright Beth Young
The shoal lily or Cahaba lily
is a beautiful but threatened species on the Cahaba River.
(Courtesy of Beth Young, Cahaba River Publishing)


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