The southeast slopes of Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve are part of the Shades Creek watershed. Shades Creek is one of the major tributaries of the upper Cahaba River, joining it where the river enters Bibb County 32 miles from Ruffner. The Cahaba is the only free-flowing river of its size in Alabama and is one of the richest rivers in North America when it comes to biodiversity, hosting more than 130 species of fish and dozens of rare and endangered mussels, snails and crayfish. It’s also the source of about a quarter of the state’s drinking water.
The northwest slopes drain into Village Creek, which goes westward through northern Birmingham, then joins the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River 22 miles from Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve. The Black Warrior River watershed is home to many of Alabama’s aquatic species, including 119 fish and 51 mussel species.
There are no permanent natural streams at Ruffner, although small streams always appear during the winter rainy season. Even so, the forest floor helps to filter rainwater before it seeps into the groundwater and eventually runs into nearby streams.
There is one steady stream of water, however, stemming from a well drilled back in the mining days that was never plugged correctly. That water was recently harnessed to feed a new wetland on the southeastern slope of the mountain.