Meet Cahaba Riverkeeper

Meet Cahaba Riverkeeper

There are several organizations dedicated to protecting the Cahaba River. All of these organizations are working toward a cleaner Cahaba and all have made positive strides. However, when we talked to Cahaba Riverkeeper to dig deeper into their goals and their methods to achieve those goals, we were impressed.

We were impressed with their scientific and data driven approach. Cahaba Riverkeeper takes a proactive approach and is willing to take on the big issues. We were also excited to learn about their willingness to work with others who are interested in the Cahaba River's health, a testament to their dedication to their mission. 

Check out the Our Story page on Cahaba Riverkeeper's website for more information about their organization. Continue reading for a brief history of Cahaba Riverkeeper in the words of their founder, Dr. Myra Crawford, herself.             

Cahaba Riverkeeper (CRK) was founded in 2009 to defend the ecological integrity of the Cahaba River and its watershed, to ensure clean water and a healthy aquatic environment, and to preserve the recreational and aesthetic values of the river basin. CRK is dedicated to the scientific study of the Cahaba and to ensuring that current, evidence-based data are readily available to the public. CRK’s primary focus is on the study of the physical and aesthetic properties of the Cahaba and its tributaries. “Believing that you can’t manage what you haven’t measured, our goal is to establish the science-based information about the river necessary to provide guidance to the most appropriate restoration and conservation of the water basin,” is the CRK mantra.

Since 2014, CRK has conducted a citizen science-focused water quality and bacteriological testing program, called Swim Guide, each summer (May-Sep) at recreational sites along the Cahaba and its major tributaries. Media coverage of the weekly Swim Guide results by area television stations, numerous magazines, newspapers and the Internet, as well as public comments, supports that the program is serving a community need. In 2018, CRK began its Bank Assessment of Stability and Sediment (BASS) program to chronicle the state of the Cahaba with sonar and video. In 2019, an environmental DNA (eDNA) fish species survey was begun in collaboration with the University of West Alabama, as well as an investigation into the presence of microplastics in the Cahaba basin’s waters. In 2022, another eDNA program will be deployed in collaboration with the University of Alabama. CRK also partners with the Freshwater Land Trust and the City of Homewood and, in 2020, helped install and monitor four Litter Gitters to capture trash in the waters of Cahaba’s creeks. Findings of all CRK programs and other vital information on the river will be made available to the public via Cahabapedia®, a web-based interactive map under construction by CRK.

Among its many collaborations, CRK has an active coalition with Black Warrior and Coosa Riverkeepers and with Waterkeepers Alabama for collaboration on programs and events, and with the Nature Conservancy and Freshwater Land Trust on water basin sustainability projects. CRK conducts routine patrols, responds to citizens’ complaints and leads litter cleanups and invasive species removal, often with Friends of the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge at the Refuge and other sites. Both staff members serve on the Friends’ board and CRK has secured funding to conduct restoration in Bibb County. CRK also routinely participates in hearings on municipalities’ issues related to stormwater regulations.

In addition to the year-round internships for area college students and high school seniors and varied opportunities for volunteer service, CRK has inaugurated its Swim Guide School STEM program that it developed during the remote teaching years of the COVID pandemic. The water quality module is replete with lesson plans and support materials (i.e., videos, exam questions) that the teacher can use in the classroom. This program has been presented in the Francis Marion Middle School in Perry County (41 students) and the Highlands School in Jefferson County (18 students). Both schools plan to use the curriculum again in the coming school year. CRK staff members have assisted teachers with the hands-on water quality sampling segments of the program where students test water for E. coli and learn to build inexpensive incubators. CRK also provides water quality education programs for local nonprofits, area churches and schools, Girl and Boy Scouts, and other organizations.