Stream Flow and the State of the Stream
This map shows the health of individual streams within the watershed.
Geographic Stream Flow
The upper reaches of Hurricane Creek are located in east Tuscaloosa County. The creek flows south and west from the town of Vance to the Black Warrior River at Holt. Pronounced "HAIR-uh-kin" Creek by older residents, the waterway often produces a roaring sound like a hurricane as it rushes over its rocky bed. It flows from the confluence of Davis and Coal creeks in the town of Vance and runs west for approximately 26 to 28 miles. The creek also meanders through the communities of Brookwood, Vance, Peterson, Coaling, Cottondale, and Holt, where it enters the Black Warrior River.
The Hurricane Creek Watershed includes Hurricane Creek as well as its five major tributaries, including Kepple Creek, North Fork, Little Hurricane Creek, Cottondale Creek, and Bee Branch. The USGS designation for this watershed is HUC 03160112-120.
Local Life Along the Stream
Hurricane Creek is home to a variety of plants, animals, invertebrates, fungi, and microscopic creatures. Each organism plays its special role in the creek ecosystem- a role that no one can play and no machine can mimic. The stream flow is part of a continuous cycle in which life flourishes and changes. Learn more about the life along Hurricane Creek.
Metals in the Creek
The most recent TMDL shows that metals are the most significant stressor to wildlife and invertebrates in Hurricane Creek. The EPA recommended a 75% reduction in the daily load of metals flowing through creek water. That is no small sum! As the creek meanders and snakes through the county, it passes through several areas of abandoned strip mines as well as some current mines. The mines have their own history detailing a dismal relationship with their environment.
These abandoned mines and current mines pose a continuing threat to the creek's health. For many miles it travels through places where the surrounding land was scraped clear of all topsoil and of nutrients for the creek. This bare soil had been eroding for decades, leaching heavy metals into the stream piggybacked within acid water.
We have found tributaries with a pH reading as low as 2.9 (lemon juice). It is in one of these streams that we have been able to enlist the help of a group of environmentalists, industrialists, and enforcement agencies to begin reclamation and recovery of one of these sites. Weldon Creek is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many more sites as bad or worse than Weldon Creek that need to be addressed before we can stop our work.
Sedimentation and Stream Flow
Sedimentation and erosion affect stream flow. Usually, we use turbidity to measure sedimentation (though it is far from perfect as a measuring tool). Turbidity occurs due to suspended solids in the water. It is attributed to mining and land development . When land developers build new residences or buildings, loads of sediment are excavated and shifted around. When there is a rain, the sediment that has been removed from its insitu position is carried away in the rainwater. Storm drains carry the water into the waterways.
Sudden increases in streamflow can cause streams to erode their banks more, increasing the sediment loads being transported. There is some uncertainty as to whether sediment is the major contributor to turbidity, since turbidity can also be caused by algae, microorganisms or organic material.
According to the most recent TMDL, waterkeepers should strive for a 32% reduction in turbidity in Hurricane Creek. Much of this reduction would occur if building companies implemented best management practices for stormwater runoff. We know that best management practices can be successfully applied at the creek (see the example of Scott Bridge Company).
Pathogens in the Creek
The most recent TMDL aims for a 67% reduction in daily loads of pathogens flowing through the creek.
The Good News
There are, however, a number of clean-running tributaries that supply enough clean recharge water to keep the stream alive and in recovery. We are beginning to see more of the native grasses along the bottom of the creek, where there used to be only mud and sand. Some of the large gravel (point) bars are moving downstream, gradually making their way to the Warrior River where they become a huge problem for towboat navigation in the lower reaches of the river. In 2012, Creekkeeper John Wathen documented fish swimming in the creek- a hopeful and beautiful sight.
If we can keep the bulk of erodible material out of the creek and work with local businesses to use best management practices in the watershed, Hurricane Creek has a chance to be a viable, healthy asset to the continuing economic growth of Tuscaloosa County. A healthy recreation and research area this close to a major university would be valuable in the future, given the new center for water studies currently being developed at the university.