Adventure on Patrol

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Adventures of Hope:

A Black Warrior Riverkeeper Intern’s Day on Patrol

At Black Warrior Riverkeeper, we have a variety of programs to help us protect and restore the Black Warrior River and its tributaries. Our Riverkeeper Patrol Program, led by Riverkeeper Nelson Brooke, is a great way for us to document pollution in the watershed and take water samples. Recently, my fellow interns had the chance to join Nelson on the Black Warrior River.

We launched our Riverkeeper patrol boat at Riverview boat launch, a popular spot just off of Jack Warner Parkway in Tuscaloosa. With our Waterkeeper Alliance flag and water sampling supplies on board, we were ready to head up the river and see Nelson’s usual routine.

Our first stop was at the North River. Here, Nelson spoke to us about how that river, a tributary of the Black Warrior, was dammed up to create Lake Tuscaloosa. It’s a well-known spot for swimming and water sports, but Lake Tuscaloosa also supplies drinking water to approximately 200,000 people in the Tuscaloosa area.

While on the North River we learned about the nature of riverbanks. Sycamore and river birch trees line the banks and actually contribute to holding the banks together. Their robust root systems are sturdy and keep the banks from falling apart and into the river. These trees are practically opposites; Sycamore trees have large leaves and smooth, shedding bark, while river birch trees have small leaves and rough bark. But their shared characteristic of maintaining the riverbank makes them especially important.

Once we were back on the Black Warrior, we headed North. As Riverkeeper, Nelson is responsible for keeping an eye out for any signs of pollution and taking water samples. The samples are then examined in a lab and compared to permit standards.

It is important to keep companies accountable and in line with the Clean Water Act, which regulates the amount of pollutants that can be released into bodies of water.  While on the river, Nelson pointed out pipes that are commonly used for discharging contaminants into the Black Warrior. We took a few samples just to double check the status of the water.

Holt Lock and Dam is located along the Black Warrior River. How it works: A hydropower system uses a dam to store river water in a reservoir. Water released from the reservoir flows through a turbine, spinning it, which in turn activates a generator to produce electricity. It was easy to see the Alabama Power Hydro Power Plant in action; the water near the plant was churning and busy, while the water near the lock was stationary. In the opposite direction on the river lies Oliver Lock and Dam.

After our patrol, we docked the patrol boat for lunch at The Levee Bar and Grill. I was surprised to learn that the restaurant is named after the architecture that it lies on: the river levee sits on the edge of the water in Northport to prevent flooding in the city. The levee keeps water from spilling out of the river and into areas where people live and work.

In our journey back to the boat launch, we reflected on what we had seen and learned. Pollution, when not reported or taken care of, is a danger to us all. The Black Warrior River watershed is home to over a million people, and it can’t monitor itself. The importance of the Clean Water Act and vigilance of citizens like Black Warrior Riverkeeper staff and volunteers are crucial to enjoying our waterways for years to come.

Author Hope Runyan, a senior at The University of Alabama, has received a grant from the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation to work with Black Warrior Riverkeeper. Runyan, a senior majoring in public relations, works for the organization as a communications intern throughout the summer. The grant, provided by a partnership between the Munson Foundation and The University of Alabama’s Department of Advertising and Public Relations, is the highest award given to a student in the College of Communication and Information Sciences. Read about all of Hope’s internship adventures here: 

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