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It contains more fish species per mile than any other river in North America. [1] [2]

Physical Geography[edit]

The Cahaba River is contained in three physiographic provinces: Coastal Plain, Ridge and Valley, and Appalachian Plateau. [1] The Mobile River Basin has the largest Gulf Coast drainage basin east of the Mississippi River, and the Cahaba is one of the seven river systems that contributes to that.[1] The mean discharge of water as an average from 1938-2000 is about 80 m3/s. The average rainfall is 138 cm/yr, and the terrestrial biome of the river is classified as Eastern Deciduous Forest.[1]

River Course[edit]

The Cahaba River begins in the Valley and Ridge region bounded by the Piedmont to the southeast and the Cumberland Plateau to the northwest. The source is near Trussville, and the river continues until it empties into the Alabama River. It has two major physical regions: Upper and Lower Cahaba. The Upper Cahaba is approximately the first 100 miles that starts at the mouth and continues to the Fall Line (the region in which the Appalachian Mountains end and the Gulf Coastal Plain begins), passing through Trussville, Leeds, Irondale, Birmingham, Mountain Brook, Helena, West Blocton, and Centerville. The Lower Cahaba starts at the Fall Line and continues through Selma and Cahaba until it empties into the Alabama River.[3]

History[edit]

The Town of Cahawba[edit]

The Cahaba River ends at the site of the town Cahaba.[2] The main attraction of the area to settlers was the cotton. People were at first skeptical to settle and try and harvest anything on these lands because of the lack of trees and lime in the water. Once it was discovered how rich the lands were for producing cotton, there was a Black Belt (region of Alabama) land rush. The town of Cahaba, Alabama, or Cahawba, acted as Alabama’s first seat of government from 1820 to 1825. As more people came, and once Cahawba was established as the capital, the town came to life with visitors, ferries, hotels, state buildings, court sessions, stores, ships, land sales, and even a local newspaper the Cahawba Press. William Wyatt Bibb, Alabama’s first governor, decided on Cahawba because of the beautiful site, fertile area, and navigable river ways. The final decision was to have Cahawba as the state capital only through 1825, and then a more permanent site could be decided on. Cahawba suffered harsh economic struggles and disease from 1819 to 1822. However, in 1821, Harriet, a steamboat, surpassed the Alabama River’s current and made it past Cahawba. This became a route of trade, and cotton trade caused the city to grow. As land was cleared for area to grow cotton on, erosion occurred and caused flooding. With all of the problems occurring around Cahawba, even though some of it was exaggerated, Tuscaloosa won by popular vote as the new state capital for Alabama in 1825. [3]The county seat was also moved to Selma after the Civil War. People began leaving the town, and soon after, it became a site for hunting and fishing camps as well as freed slaves. Old Cahawba is now an abandoned town and a state historical site. [2]

Moundville[edit]

In AD 1300, Moundville was the largest community north of Mexico. Possibly as many as 10,000 people paid tribute to the mound builders. There were 29 mounds constructed over 185 acres near the Black Warrior River Valley. The Black Warrior River and the Cahaba River run parallel to each other for over 100 miles, often as close 30 miles apart or even closer. Just South of Centerville, a mound remains, showing how widespread and dominant the rule of the mound builders was. [3]

Geology[edit]

The Valley and Ridge region, which is where the Cahaba River begins, was formed when the African Plate collided with the North American Plate in the Paleozoic era. In the Valley, the soils consist of gravel, sand, and clay, while the ridges consist of rocks made out of chert and sandstone. Upper Cahaba region contains Cenozoic age gravel, clay, and sand. In the Lower Cahaba region, the soils are calcareous, or chalky. [3]

Ecology[edit]

The Cahaba River is home to numerous species. Due to damming for hydropower, pollution, transportation, and erosion, it has suffered losses of species. Almost a quarter of the original documented mussel species in the Cahaba have disappeared with similar trends in the fish and snail numbers of species. Many species have still been discovered and rediscovered in and on the surrounding region of the river. The Cahaba is also home to 13 snail species not found anywhere else in the world. In the early 21st century, a Georgia botanist Jim Allison discovered eight unknown flower species, and later eight more were identified along the river's course that previously had not been sited in the state of Alabama. This region is most noted for containing numerous species of mollusks and snails. These species feed other aquatic dwelling animals, improve water quality by eating algae, and even indicate environmental issues due to their receptiveness of pollution [2] Fourteen of the freshwater fish species are non-native species in the Cahaba River.[1]

Cahaba Lily[edit]

The Cahaba Lily, or shoals spiderlily, is one of the rarest attractions of the river. It is found only in South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.[4] While this flower once was present through all of the Southeast, it now exists in about 70 stands with a fourth of the stands in the Cahaba River. The seeds travel with the river's flow, and crevices in the shoals (rocky bars that run across the river) shelter the seeds as they sprout. [2] The Cahaba lilies bloom in early May, and the entire blooming season is through by mid-June.[4] The flowers open in the evening instead of the day due to pollination by sphinx moths, which are active at night.[2] Each flower blooms and lasts only one day before wilting.[4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Ward, G. M. "Cahaba River Facts". Elsevier.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help);
  2. ^ a b c d e f Nijhuis, Michelle. "The Cahaba: A River of Riches". Smithsonianmag.com. Smithsonian. Retrieved 22 Sept. 2012.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d Todd Keith, ed. (1998). Cahaba: A Gift For Generations: An Historical Folio Revealing the Heart River of Alabama. Birmingham: Cahaba River Society. 
  4. ^ a b c Allan, Chuch. "The Cahaba Lily". Retrieved 22 Sept. 2012.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)