The Cahaba River


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This page provides teachers with some very basic facts about the Cahaba River.  There are currently four major sections

Ecological importance
Economic Importance


More information about the ecology of the Cahaba River can be found on these pages:

Description of Upper and Lower Cahaba
Threats to the Cahaba River

Geography:  The Cahaba River is located in central Alabama and its watershed includes portions of the St. Clair, Jefferson, Shelby, Bibb,  Perry, and Dallas counties.

Map courtesy of the Alabama Maps project:

Ecological Importance

 Some basic ecological facts about the river:

  • The Cahaba is the longest free-flowing river in Alabama.  This means that there are no dams on the Cahaba. 
  • There are 69 rare and imperiled species that make their home in the Cahaba River.
  • The Cahaba supports the largest known population of shoals lily in the world.
  • There are 131 species of fish that can be found in the Cahaba river.
  • Visit our Cahaba Animals and Cahaba Plants pages to learn more about the Cahaba’s biodiversity.

The Cahaba River is an Aquatic Ecosystem

The Cahaba River is noted as the largest free flowing river in Alabama with an incredible range of biodiversity.  In protecting the aquatic ecosystem we must observe the importance between habitat and species.  Aquatic species' populations depend on such environmental factors as sources of energy, temperature range, quality of the water, speed of the current, oxygen levels in the water, and substrate type (such as silt, sand, or rock).  These factors and others provide the habitat for species an aquatic ecosystem.  These factors vary within an aquatic ecosystem, thus providing a range of habitat types in the ecosystem.  Because different species prefer different habitats, the more habitat diversity there is in a stream or river, the more species you will find.  Together, all the species in an ecosystem form the community.  While all species require a different set of environmental factors, most species in the Cahaba River rely on there being a sufficient amount of unpolluted water flowing through the watershed. 


Some Ecological Terms You Should Know:  Specialists are organisms that require a narrow range of environmental factors (a narrow habitat).  Other organisms that may tolerate a wide range of conditions for their habitats are known as generalists.  Organisms are also classified by their feeding roles.  The terms herbivore, omnivore, and predator are some ways to distinguish animals based on differences in food choice.  Other terms of classifications can be found in the sites Glossary.


Economic Importance

  • Much of the River's economic importance is due to its supplying us with potable water.
  • The Cahaba River supplies Alabama with 25% of its drinking water! 
  • The Cahaba River, Little Cahaba River and Lake Purdy system provides an average of 57 million gallons of drinking water per day.
  • The Cahaba has become more polluted over the past 20 years. Industries, cities, and counties can discharge 40 million gallons per day of treated wastewater into the Cahaba! 
  • Untreated sewage and minimally treated wastewater sometimes flow into the Cahaba during rainy periods! YUCK!
  • By providing a place for recreation, the Cahaba River provides economic importance to the outdoor sporting industry in the region.

The Cahaba River provides us with many fun outdoor activities!  You can enjoy:                         

  • Fishing, canoeing
  • Kayaking, rafting
  • Bird watching, wildlife observation

You can find information about renting canoes and kayaks from Alabama Small Boats located in Helena

For canoeing and kayaking, there are many locations to launch from in the area.  One great spot for launching a canoe is Cahaba Landing in Irondale, with a take-out point near Liberty Park. Click here for directions:

Other launch and take-out points can be found on a map provided by the Cahaba River Society:

Sources used:  World Wildlife Fund
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
See References for other sources