American Rivers, a conservation organization that works to protect and restore the nation’s rivers, named the Coosa on its Top 10 Most Endangered Rivers list in 2010.
The Coosa did not fall under that list this year, but Gerrit Jobsis, Southeast Regional director for American Rivers, said nothing has changed in the Coosa River Basin.
“There are no different conditions,” Jobsis said. “The river is still in the same condition that it was in last year.”
In an online statement, the organization said its practice is to feature different rivers each year — making consecutive or repeat listings are unlikely.
Jobsis could not say why the Coosa River wasn’t on the list this year, but he did say that American Rivers gets nominations from various organizations for the list, with the highlighted issue being clean water.
The organization’s website stated it ultimately wants to help save rivers from urgent threats like pollution, mining and dams.
Jobsis said they are still waiting on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to renew Alabama Power’s license to operate its hydroelectric dams in the Coosa River.
American Rivers stated in a release that the U.S. Fisheries and Wildlife Service should take a hard look at FERC’s assessment to ensure protection and restoration of the river.
“It is a highly imperiled river, and nothing has changed since last year,” said Jeff Powell with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Powell said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working to make sure the right protections are in place with the new license.
“Alabama Power will have to comply with the endangered species act and provide additional water quality for the river,” he said.
The water quality that Powell referred to includes temperature and dissolved oxygen levels.
“We are doing all we can to partner with agencies to preserve the wildlife of the Coosa,” said Brandon Glover, spokesman for Alabama Power Company.
Glover said endangered and threatened wildlife species in the Coosa are surviving and possibly increasing.
“Our studies show that populations aren’t declining,” Glover said. “It shows they are holding steady or improving. The (tulotoma) snail is a great example of that.”
The tulotoma is a snail found only in Alabama, and it was recently reclassified from endangered to threatened. It has only been found in the Coosa and Alabama rivers.
In 1992, APC established minimum flows in the Coosa below Jordan Dam, and later installed a draft tube aeration system to ensure maintenance of dissolved oxygen levels, according to federal officials.
APC then began to monitor long-term population trends in this section of the Coosa River. As a result of this study, numerous tulotoma colonies were discovered.
In accordance to the new license, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to make sure APC refills a “dead river,” which is a 21-mile section of the Coosa River that was bypassed by Weiss Dam.
“That section has not received any continuous flow in more than 30 years,” Powell said.
The new license would require APC to keep a continuous minimum flow going through that section. Powell said by diverting water to this section of the river, the wildlife would benefit from that portion of the Coosa River.
“We have been working with the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center and raising critters there,” he said. “We are hoping to put them in the Coosa.”
The AABC is located near Marion and sits on 36 acres of property near the Cahaba River. It is the largest state non-game species recovery program of its kind in the United States.
The AABC helps restore and release threatened and endangered snails, mussels and fish into state waters. The center also works to improve water quality across the state.
Dr. Paul Johnson, program supervisor for AABC, said the center has released freshwater mussels into Choccolocco Creek, which feeds water into the Coosa River.
Johnson said until the new licensing process is complete, “AABC is withholding any future releases into the Coosa.”
“The biological opinion has to be filed first,” he said. “We will have to perform tests to see if we can release more.”
If a minimum continuous flow is restored to the “dead river,” Johnson said that is where the center will try to release more endangered or threatened species.
“We are hoping it will happen soon,” Johnson said. “It’s seven years overdue.”
Powell said APC’s license expired in 2006, and the company is still in the process of renewing its license.
“It is in FERC’s hands now,” he said. “I’m tired of speculating on when it will be done.”
Glover said that APC is involved with stakeholders and federal agencies with improving the river basin, and he described it as an “ongoing process.”
“We are not trying to rush the process,” he said. “We want to move forward with the best information possible.”