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Cahaba River Society (CRS) is building the community of support needed to achieve our shared vision of a healthy future for the Cahaba River and for all lives relying on this vulnerable, valuable resource.

We help residents, businesses, and wildlife thrive by working with many partners to achieve good water quality, abundant drinking water, nature that supports healthy lives, well-educated people connected with their rivers, and growth that does not degrade our natural water assets, but instead connects with them to spread quality of life and economic opportunity through all communities.

With core values of education, collaboration, stewardship, and integrity, CRS is a science-based expert resource and a partnership catalyst. We bring together people from development, business, the environment, utilities, faith, recreation, science, government, and education – a powerful combination for wise growth and conservation.

The Cahaba’s water and groundwater in the River basin provide essential drinking water sources for most Birmingham area residents and businesses.

The Cahaba River is the heart of Alabama’s globally-significant biodiversity and imperiled freshwater life, with more species of fish per mile than any other river of its size or larger in North America. 11 Cahaba fish & mussel species are threatened or endangered; 69 freshwater/land species are rare or imperiled.

From the southern Appalachians to the rural Black Belt, the Cahaba spans forests, prairies, “lost world” glades of wildflowers found nowhere else, and river shoals white with the largest stands of Cahaba Lilies on Earth. The River gives us unique recreation, educational, and tourism opportunities. The Cahaba is a treasure and is essential to many lives.

CLEAN, our unique program that provides water-based, hands-on science education, is connecting youth with the River, increasing educational impact, and growing to reach more urban and disadvantaged students.

CRS’s Shane Hulsey CLEAN program has provided 30,000 youth with hands-on, river-based environmental science activities as part of stream walks, canoe trips, and restoration projects. In a typical year CLEAN serves 35 public, private, and home schools and colleges. We are expanding CLEAN to serve more schools, especially for urban youth, to give them positive outdoor experiences that enhance learning.

Today’s youth spend too much time indoors. CLEAN engages youth in healthful, fun outdoor education that connects them to local water resources and wildlife, improves learning and retention, and sparks stewardship. For many environmental, science, and natural resource professionals, fun times spent in nature when they were young helped set them on their career paths. We aim for more youth, especially disadvantaged youth and youth of color, who are under-represented in environmental fields, to become committed professionals who work for environmental quality in their communities and wisely manage water resources.

New CLEAN Partnerships Reach Urban Students
CRS is building many new partnerships to reach out to teachers and administrators of the Birmingham City Schools and book field trips with more schools and Career Academies. CLEAN partners with the Summer Adventures in Learning (SAIL) program, which strengthens math/reading academics in summer youth programs, with an aim that Birmingham students will no longer lose up to 5 months of grade-level equivalency during summer. CLEAN is a perfect fit since it provides outdoor fun and learning together.

CRS works with volunteers and partners to restore the Cahaba’s health.

Riverside forests protect the integrity of streambanks, water quality, recreation, and habitat for wildlife in the river and on land. CRS has a new partnership with the Birmingham Botanical Gardens (BBG) Centennial Trees project and Hancock Forest Management to restore native riverside forests. Hancock volunteers replanted ¼ mile of river forest last fall. BBG helps volunteers collect seed from a site to grow native trees and understory plants that aren’t available in nurseries and are perfectly suited to our river, then helps volunteers plant them. CRS will coordinate these partners and citizens to restore forests and also build support for Cahaba protection in places like Trussville, where a riverbank reshaping project denuded trees, and the Cahaba National Wildlife Refuge, where a road project cut down forests and rip rapped the banks that are the backdrop to the Cahaba lilies.

The Cahaba Blueway partnership is developing plans, funds and best practices to improve river access and information and multiply tourism and recreation opportunities.

CRS, The Nature Conservancy, Alabama Innovation Engine (jointly funded by the U. of Alabama and Auburn U.), the National Park Service Rivers Trails & Conservation Assistance Program, the Freshwater Land Trust and others are collaborating to develop more Cahaba river access and unified signage, public information, and marketing. Over the coming years many projects will improve Cahaba River public access and link the river with trails, parks, historic sites, and cultural attractions in surrounding communities, boosting recreation & tourism-related economic development from the Birmingham area down to the Black Belt.

In 2014, Best Practices Design Guidelines for Cahaba River Access and Blueway signage & wayfinding design guidelines were completed. In 2015 these were be shared online and with stakeholders as a resource for siting and building safe, low impact, durable river access. CRS also helped with an inventory of existing river access sites and their improvement needs. We applaud AL Innovation Engine for bringing Brian Rushing on board as the Blueway project coordinator, as the partners develop plans and resources to sustain the Blueway effort.

We have engaged public officials, potential funders, and developers in planning for improved river access. CRS is advising the design to improve the Grants Mill river access, a project of The Nature Conservancy, and the Old Overton launch in Vestavia Hills. The Freshwater Land Trust’s new Moon River launch in Leeds will be built as soon as road access is resolved. We are identifying locations for new river access with Hoover officials and met with Mountain Brook about their new Cahaba River Park. We are exploring an ADA-accessible canoe/kayak launch for the flat-water section of the river upstream from Highway 280.  We are supporting projects of The Nature Conservancy to improve river access in the lower watershed.

CRS educates and collaborates to encourage development best practices that restore water quality.

The Cahaba is losing ground – literally – as increased stormwater flows from more paving and roofs erode Cahaba tributaries and collapse the river’s banks. This, in addition to construction runoff, is a growing source of the river’s mud pollution and most serious degradation challenge. CRS promotes feasible, cost-effective solutions. Low Impact Development (LID) stormwater design is essential to reduce mud pollution, restore water quality and freshwater wildlife habitat and protect drinking water supplies.

CRS collaborates with and educates development professionals and government officials to increase their capacity to support and deliver LID solutions. We advise developers and have helped bring LID solutions to residential, commercial, and school projects. We’ve trained over 1300 professionals and officials in LID.

Our collaboration with the AL Department of Transportation (ALDOT) is improving stormwater management for highways. In past years CRS and partners secured improved requirements in ALDOT’s statewide stormwater permit. In 2014 we advised ALDOT’s 1st statewide policy to implement improved post-construction and Low Impact Development stormwater design for highways.

Northern Beltline demonstrates stormwater solutions
Phase I of the Birmingham Northern Beltline (BNB) is now under construction. We respect that other groups oppose the BNB for many environmental and financial reasons. CRS focused on collaborating with ALDOT on the best possible plans to reduce waterway impacts. As a result, the BNB is the first highway in the state with LID design to reduce post-construction runoff impacts of erosion and pollution, and construction runoff controls were greatly strengthened. At CRS’ request in 2014 ALDOT held a stormwater workshop and a tour of the BNB construction site for community and environmental leaders, including opponents. The Beltline’s extensive, innovative stormwater controls and strong contractor management tools are among the best in the state and have helped reduce impacts of runoff to Self Creek in the Black Warrior basin. Still, this is a massive earth-moving project. Despite best efforts, water pollution has occurred during the recent heavy November rains.

CRS works with many watershed leaders to strengthen state / city / county stormwater requirements, programs, and codes.

An ADEM-adopted study has set the official target to restore the Cahaba: the river’s mud pollution must be reduced by 48%.  CRS is bringing stakeholders together to commit to specific ways to reach that goal and measure progress. There is an urgent window of opportunity: for the 1st time in 12 years, ADEM will revise stormwater permits for Birmingham-area local governments in 2015-17. This is the time to implement LID as standard practice to restore water quality. CRS and the AL Stormwater Partners influenced stronger requirements in Mobile’s permit is 2014 and will now focus on the Birmingham permits and implementation codes.

In 2014 CRS and partners unsuccessfully tried to prevent passage of a state law that seeks to greatly restrict local governments from controlling stormwater pollution. CRS deeply appreciates the hard work of Alabama Rivers Alliance and Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) in that effort. We educated city officials, and several actively opposed the legislation. We continue to work with local officials, EPA and ADEM to ensure cities and counties can build effective stormwater programs that meet local needs and Clean Water Act requirements. In 2014 CRS, SELC, and BWRk advised the drafting of stronger stormwater codes that will help the City of Birmingham control pollutant runoff and dumping into storm drains.

CRS promotes water/energy efficiency & collaboration with business, utilities, faith, and environmental leaders

Drinking water efficiency practices stretch existing water supplies, save energy, and meet needs of growing communities at least cost to ratepayers and the environment. In 2014 CRS, American Rivers, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Birmingham Water Works, and Alabama Rivers Alliance delivered a workshop that taught 52 utility staff from our metro area and statewide how to control leaks, water theft, and other water loss, improve revenue, and reduce costs.

UAB completed a major water efficiency retrofit that is saving around 50 million gallons of water a year. To show the power of water efficiency retrofits by large water users, the combined water savings of UAB, Alabama Power’s HQ, and Children’s of Alabama are equivalent to one full day of drinking water withdrawals from the Cahaba River. These projects are also saving energy and money.

CRS and faith, utility, business, government, and environmental leaders of the Collaborative Environmental Network of Alabama (C.E.N.A.) are securing resources for a 3-year plan for developing collaboration trainings and a resources toolkit to increase skills and deepen support for collaboration among C.E.N.A. participants and the wider community.

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