August River Voice

Little River Waterkeeper 

August, 2019

In late Summer, the waters of Little River begin to turn darker due to dissolved organic matter and brown algae. As vegetation decays, tannins leach into the water making it darker in color and more acidic. The brown coloration of the water is similar to what happens when we make tea. This does not necessarily mean it is dirty or unsafe for swimming.  Leaf litter is one of the most abundant contaminants resulting from stormwater runoff. Each fall, millions of deciduous trees put on an amazing show of autumn color and then drop all their leaves. Some savvy gardeners turn them into mulch and compost, but much of that biomass is captured by the forest floor where it decomposes giving nutrients back to the soil. However some of it gets washed or blown into the ditcwhes and storm drains, then into our creeks, rivers and lakes. When all of that biomass hits at once the nutrient load is high. Aquatic plants thrive on nutrients but when the load is too high, explosive growth can occur which is then followed by rapid decay at the end of the plant’s growth cycle which results in depleted oxygen levels. Like most living things aquatic animals die without oxygen. Soil Erosion is another problem that also depletes O2 levels. Silt fills spaces in between and under rocks destroying habitat for small aquatic animals that are critical food source species for larger aquatic animals.  Soil erosion and high nutrient loads are issues we see in the Little River Watershed. At times we see large amounts of soil erosion or sediment pollution due to land development, logging and county roads that haven’t been maintained properly. Because most of Little River has a shallow riverbed and because rare and endemic aquatic and plant species live in this unique habitat, pollution from erosion can create severe and irreversible negative impacts. 

Rains bring higher E-coli levels
It is half-way through our SwimGuide Season and the water in Little River is MOSTLY really clean!! Our waterlogged selves can also attest, the water is perfect!! Samples have been collected during varied weather conditions. Because of this, we have seen some high E. coli levels as a result. This is a result in stormwater runoff. Lookout Mountain has seen some gully washers over the past few weeks! This large amount of rain in a very short amount of time can result in some very turbid (muddy) water! The runoff can carry animal droppings on the ground into local streams, causing elevated E. coli concentrations. The soil can also contain bacteria and other contaminants that can make you sick. The E. coli Bacteria is killed by sunlight (UV specifically), so having low water clarity reduces the chances that bacteria in the water will be exposed to sunlight and die. With that said, please use caution when swimming within a 24hr period after a rain event, especially if you have open cuts or a compromised immune system. We encourage local camp owners and staff along with other Little River users to follow our weekly updates on littleriverwaterkeeper.org or TheSwimGuide.org to make sure your area is safe to swim in. 

Little River Wild & Scenic Designation

Alabama has approximately 77,242 miles of river, of which only 61.4 miles of one river is designated as wild & scenic—less than 1/10th of 1% of the state’s river miles. The West Fork of the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River is located in the Bankhead National Forest and shockingly, is the ONLY Wild & Scenic River in our water rich state of Alabama. The Little River Waterkeeper is working with the Alabama Rivers Alliance in order to nominate and designate parts of Little River as Wild & Scenic. We feel that creating the argument will be somewhat easy however, it will take an official act of the US Congress to make it a reality. Little River spans the Dekalb and Cherokee County borders along Lookout Mountain and is the perfect choice for the region’s next Wild and Scenic River. Thousands of visitors each year come to Lookout Mountain because of Little River. It is home to many rare and endemic flora and fauna. Because of the growth that is projected to take place in our region over the next 35-40 years, there is not a better time than now to protect this Wild & Scenic worthy landscape. Public land managers of Desoto State Park and the Little River NPS along with other natural resource managers from Fish & Wildlife and US Forest Service would be charged with protecting the river’s scenic and recreational values, and new dams would be forever prohibited. Designation would not affect private property and would ensure that the experiences and economic benefits Little River provides today will be there for future generations. This effort requires enthusiastic local and regional support. We are in the process of identifying key river stakeholders and community partners. Over the next several months, we will begin reaching out to stakeholders asking businesses and individuals to endorse the nomination. We invite you to join the movement to protect Little River!    

Southern Exposure Film Update!        Jebb Brachner has been in the area shooting some great footage of Little River for the 2019 Southern Exposure Film Fellowship. We had the good fortune to take he and his colleagues to some of our favorite places along the river, from the headwaters to the mouth. I believe it was a good experience for them. They enjoyed meeting so many great members of the community while in town. The film is currently being edited to reflect the phenomenon that is Little River. It will tell a story of why people flock here and why the folks that live here are the heart of Lookout Mountain. It will remind us just how important the river is to this community and how protecting it is vital for future generations.
The Little River Waterkeeper will host the Southern Exposure Film on Thursday, September 26, 2019 at the Little River Canyon Center. Mark your calendar! We will send out more details in the coming months. 

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