By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Seamus LeDuc
The Black Warrior River was once a passageway that brought coal and methane from Birmingham down to Tuscaloosa. This waterway is one of the reasons cities between Tuscaloosa and Birmingham were able to grow in the 20th century. But the progress made 100 years ago has had some lasting impressions.
From chemical waste to dead spots, some areas along the shoreline are considered hazardous for humans. A few years ago pollution almost got out of hand. But thanks to a few rule changes and the local riverkeeper, The Black Warrior River is making a clear comeback.
The Black Warrior River spans 6,275 feet and begins just west of Birmingham. The river is composed of three reservoirs within Oliver Lake, Holt Lake and Bankhead Lake. These three bodies of water spill out and flow south, creating the Black Warrior River.
The river flows all the way down to Demopolis, where it merges into the Tombigbee River. Black Warrior Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke devotes himself full-time to watching over the river with the help of volunteers.
Brooke has been riverkeeper for a little over a decade and has his hands full when it comes to responsibility. His job includes patrolling the water and air, responding to the public and media, and enforcing rules and regulations alongside the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Brooke is an Eagle Scout and outdoor enthusiast who has what he calls the privilege to watch over one of Tuscaloosa’s best assets.
Brooke said he’s in constant battle against chemical and coal plants to keep the river clean.
“I keep an eye on all public permits, and if we find a facility has violated a permit we file a lawsuit in Federal Court under the Clean Water Act,” he said.
Brooke currently has a few potential violators and said he’s filed dozens of lawsuits, but the difference between 2009 and 2020 is “night and day.”
But Brooke isn’t just here to push paper and put up rules. The avid hiker in him is mixed with a caretaker who sees the outdoors as his child.
Every time he is outdoors he collects a bag of trash from trails or river banks. And that’s something anyone can do when they’re outdoors, he said.
“A clean up doesn’t have to be a big event with hundreds of people,” he said. “Instead pick up a little bit each time you enjoy the outdoors.”
Brooke said he wants everyone to be safe and healthy as they enjoy what he calls the heart of Tuscaloosa for years to come.
“We’re placing the river’s health and our health first,” he said. “For too long it was a resource that was taken for granted.”
Fishing is another big activity the Black Warrior River is known for.
ADCNR Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division District 3 Supervisor Chris McKee said there are some new rules in effect for the Black Warrior that the public should know.
“You can’t take baitfish from one body of water to another if they are still alive,” McKee said.
This rule comes as a warning to what could be potentially invasive species moving into our waters. An invasive species is something that has no known predators in a new environment and therefore disrupts the ecosystem.
Along with baitfish, there’s another common fish with new regulations in 2020. Anglers are permitted to keep just one catfish over 34 inches per season.
“Anything over 34 inches we want to stay in the water and keep track of,” McKee said. Catfish smaller than 34 inches do not have a limit.
Mckee said the Black Warrior River’s fish population is stable and the water quality sample for this year came back as good.
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