Watershed

When a drop of water falls, where does it go? It all depends where it is in the watershed. A watershed is an area in which all the surface water drains to one place, such as a stream or river plus the land around it that drains into it. Watersheds are like nesting dolls, with each one fitting into the next. For instance, in Birmingham, Village Creek is part of the Locust Fork Watershed, which is part of the Black Warrior River Watershed, which is part of the Mobile River Basin. That means that water that flows into Village Creek ends up in the Mobile River and the Gulf of Mexico.

Those connections between watersheds mean that what we do can have an impact many miles away. Watersheds don’t just contain forests; they also include parking lots, back yards and storm drains. The fertilizers we put on our lawns and the oil that drips from our cars are washed by rains and drain into local creeks and streams and flow into rivers – which we depend on for clean drinking water — and, eventually, the sea.

Alabama’s waterways are famous worldwide for the diversity of wildlife they support. The state has more types of crayfish, fish, snails and mussels than any other state in the nation. Many of the species unique to Alabama are found in the streams in and around Birmingham.

For example, the Cahaba River, which flows through metropolitan Birmingham, is home to more than 131 species of freshwater fish, including 18 found nowhere else. There are dozens more rare mussels and snails and a huge variety of plants, including the elegant Cahaba Lily, which draws crowds when it blooms each spring. At the same time, more than a million people depend on the Cahaba for drinking water, another good reason to keep it clean.

That’s easier said than done, because more than water flows through a watershed. A stream also carries sediment, the nutrients released by decomposing plants and the minerals that dissolve out of rocks. There’s water that we can’t see that soaks into and moves through the ground – called groundwater – until it eventually emerges in streams. So the land the river flows through is also a crucial part of every watershed.

Birmingham claims more watersheds than most cities, thanks to its complicated geology and hilly terrain. That means that streams that may be close to each other as the crow flies may flow for miles before they connect. With that in mind, there are two main watersheds in our area, one on each side of Red Mountain.

On the south side of the ridge, water flows into the Cahaba River, the source for about a quarter of Alabama’s drinking water, which ends when it merges with the Alabama River near Selma. The Alabama then joins with the Tombigbee to form the Mobile River, which empties into the Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

On the north side of Red Mountain, water flows into the Black Warrior River watershed, which lies entirely within northwest Alabama. The river begins 20 miles west of Birmingham at the confluence of the Locust Fork and Mulberry Fork. It joins the Tombigbee River in Demopolis; the Tombigbee then continues south and is joined by the Alabama River near Mobile. Although the Black Warrior River isn’t in the city of Birmingham, many of the city’s creeks end up in it, including Turkey Creek, Five Mile Creek, Village Creek and Valley Creek. 

Watershed of Homewood Forest Preserve

The waters flowing from Homewood Forest Preserve feed Shades Creek, which flows past the base of the preserve. Shades Creek is one of the most important tributaries to the Cahaba River, and the Cahaba is one of the world’s most … Continue reading

Watershed George Ward Park

George Ward Park sits at the upper reaches of the Valley Creek watershed. A small spring noted on old USGS maps as Holly Spring pops out of the ground near Cedars Avenue. The channel meanders through the park to the … Continue reading

Watershed of the Cahaba River Walk

The Cahaba River is Alabama’s longest free flowing river, meaning there are no dams on the river for hydroelectric power. However, there are water control structures than can limit the migration of some fish and mussel species.  The entire river … Continue reading

Avondale Park Watershed

King Spring and Avondale Park lie within the Black Warrior River Basin. The spring feeds a small run that fills the park’s small pond. From there, the run travels northwest below 41st Street South before joining Avondale Creek, a tributary … Continue reading

Watershed of Red Mountain Cut

The ‘cut’ spans the watershed divide between the Black Warrior River on the northwest and the Cahaba River to the southeast. The southern side of the cut lies in the headwater streams of Griffin Brooks and Watkins Brook which flow … Continue reading

Watershed of AWC

It’s true that wherever you stand in Alabama, you are not far from a stream or river. Alabama’s wet climate provides the water for these streams while the surrounding lands guide surface water and groundwater to them year round. These … Continue reading

Railroad Park Watershed

Surrounded by concrete and brick buildings and asphalt streets, this limestone valley still serves as a collecting basin for Valley Creek. Before the 1870 build-out of downtown, the ground beneath probably supported oak-maple forests. The Valley Creek basin, once covered … Continue reading

Journey of a Raindrop Through the Park

Follow along the journey of a raindrop through Railroad Park while learning about the water cycle. Our raindrop falls from the sky with friends (precipitation) in heavy balls of water (condensation) and rolls down the amphitheater lawn to a collection … Continue reading

WDNWR Watersheds

The water from Thomas Spring joins an unnamed tributary that flows northward until it joins Halls Creek. Along the way, the tributary receives water from Glenn Spring, another of the five springs inhabited by the Watercress Darter. Glenn Spring is … Continue reading

Watershed of Roebuck Spring

The run (stream) from Roebuck Spring flows about 1,000 meters (1,094 yards) before joining Village Creek. Village Creek flows westward through Birmingham, feeding water to East Lake along the way. West of the city, the creek travels northward to join … Continue reading

Threats to Shades Creek

Shades Creek needs our help. Stormwater from our urbanized landscape is causing erosion and property loss along the creek and endangering fishes and other stream critters. During the past century, much of the Shades Creek watershed has been urbanized. This … Continue reading

Saving Shades Creek

Shades Creek has seen some hard times (read Threats to Shades Creek), but this important stream is getting some help. One of the biggest problems with urban streams is the increased speed and volume of water in the creek during rainstorms. … Continue reading

Watershed of Shades Creek

Joggers, bikers, and walkers on the Shades Creek Greenway are in the floodplain of one of the most important tributaries to the Cahaba River. And the Cahaba is one of the world’s most celebrated rivers. The Cahaba River has more … Continue reading

Watershed East Lake Park

East Lake is a 45-acre artificial lake filled with water pumped out of Village Creek. The creek flows through the park property between the lake and 1st Avenue North. A dam holds back the lake’s water on the southwestern margin … Continue reading

Red Mountain Park Watershed

Red Mountain is the division point between two of Alabama’s major watersheds. Within the park, its northwest slopes feed Nabors Branch and other small creeks that form the headwaters of nearby Valley Creek. Valley Creek flows southwest, paralleling Red Mountain, … Continue reading

Watershed of McWane Science Center

All of downtown Birmingham rests within the headwaters of the Valley Creek watershed. Valley Creek, one of several major creeks draining Jones Valley, flows to the Black Warrior River, joining it about 25 miles away from the McWane Center. Valley … Continue reading

Discover Alabama’s Water Resources at the McWane Science Center

Alabama is world-famous for its aquatic biodiversity. We have more freshwater species of fishes, snails, mussels, crayfish, and turtles in Alabama than in any other state. We also rank near the top for “herps” (that’s biological slang for reptiles and … Continue reading

Watershed of Turkey Creek

The channel for Turkey Creek begins where rain water collects in eastern edges of the watershed behind the damns at Cosby Lake, Shadow Lake and Lake in the Woods in Clay.  Once the water moves past the damns the stream … Continue reading

Watersheds of Birmingham Botanical Gardens

A small unnamed creek drains across the southern portion of The Gardens and flows into nearby Watkins Brook. The creek, the brook, and all of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens are within the upper portions of the Shades Creek watershed. Shades … Continue reading

Watershed of the Birmingham Zoo

The basin that holds the Zoo and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens lies south of Red Mountain and north of Shades Mountain. Fresh spring water from under the zoo once provided water for fish hatchery ponds built from Hartselle Sandstone. A … Continue reading

Watersheds of SEC and the Hugh Kaul Ecoscape

Sitting atop one of the highest hills on the floor of Jones Valley, the Southern Environmental Center and Birmingham-Southern College have sweeping views of two of the city’s most important watersheds.  To the north is Village Creek, which flows westward … Continue reading

Watersheds of Sloss

An abundance of its creeks and rivers is one of the most distinctive features and greatest natural resources of Alabama.  While the state’s streams wander the landscape in many directions, all eventually flow to the coast.  A watershed is all … Continue reading

Watersheds of Moss Rock

Moss Rock Preserve is drained by a small stream known as Hurricane Branch.  This stream begins in the preserve, but where it begins flowing changes seasonally.  During the fall, the upper branch may be dry, but during the wet months … Continue reading

Watersheds of Oak Mountain State Park

It’s true that wherever you stand in Alabama, you are not far from a stream or river. Alabama’s wet climate provides the water for these streams while the surrounding lands guide surface water and groundwater to them year round. These … Continue reading

Watersheds of Vulcan Park

The abundance of its creeks and rivers is one of the most distinctive features and greatest natural resources of Alabama. While the state’s streams wander the landscape in many directions, all eventually flow to the coast.  A watershed is all … Continue reading

Watersheds of Ruffner Mountain

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. … Continue reading