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The Upper Cahaba River provides a wide variety of important resources for the Birmingham, Alabama area. The Cahaba is a primary source of drinking water, and is internationally recognized for its biodiversity, including a large number of threatened and endangered species. These varied resources are increasingly threatened as development rapidly expands in the suburban Birmingham region. A coordinated effort among the governmental jurisdictions in the Upper Cahaba Watershed was essential to build consensus on how best to create a balanced approach to watershed protection and development. With the help of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPC), jurisdictions in Jefferson, Shelby, and St. Clair Counties agreed in 2000 to cooperate as the Upper Cahaba Watershed Consortium to develop effective land use planning approaches for protecting the resources of the Cahaba River and its watershed.

The Consortium conducted the Upper Cahaba Watershed Study in order to better understand threats to the health of the river and to investigate ways to protect and restore river water quality and habitat, while also meeting goals for balanced regional economic development. The study was undertaken to address several needs, including:

An understanding of the region's stakeholders – municipal, citizen, and business – who have diverse and sometimes conflicting interests in the river and watershed land use.

Watershed management tools to support land use and water management decisions.

An understanding of patterns of growth across the watershed.

Planning tools that could be uniformly used throughout the watershed to protect resources as development continues.

A process for local governments to consistently apply these tools across the watershed, fostering effective ways to protect the river and lessen competition among jurisdictions.

The Study first provided a compilation and summary for public use of existing data and information on the current status of the watershed. The study also included the development and use of a watershed model to estimate the relative water quality and quantity impacts from different scenarios for future land development. From these examinations of current and potential future conditions, plus input gained from project stakeholder involvement, major choices emerged for setting goals for the protection and restoration of the river and land use planning in the watershed. Local governments were subsequently provided an array of planning tools and recommendations for their application that will allow the region to support growth while protecting the resources of the Cahaba.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2004

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