Fish and mollusks are returning to a 20-mile stretch of the original Coosa River channel in east Alabama thanks to coordinated efforts between Alabama Power and government biologists at the state and federal level.
Biologists from Alabama Power and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) inspected waters below the Weiss bypass dam Wednesday. They found improving conditions supporting species growth and habitat restoration, proof that plans implemented in 2014 to return continuous river flows to the area are working.
“Now that we’ve got a more natural flow regime, we expect to see the return of a lot of fish, snail and mollusk species that had become adapted to a more lake environment,” said Alabama Power Environmental Affairs Supervisor Jason Carlee.
The 20-mile stretch of the original river channel was bypassed in 1960 when Weiss Dam was constructed to deliver more efficient generation conditions. Like many of the rivers in the Southeast, the Coosa features a tremendous number of freshwater snails, mussels, fishes and crayfishes – once supporting the greatest freshwater snail fauna in the world. Increasing water flow to sections of the Coosa offers the unique opportunity to study efforts to restore a portion of the fauna previously absent from the river.
“We hope to see the reintroduction or the expansion of a lot of snail and mollusk species,” Carlee said. “There’s actually one listed species called the Southern Clubshell on this stretch of river. We really want to see it have success and then, if conditions improve, the state can start to reintroduce some species to this stretch of the river that haven’t been here for awhile.”
Carlee said the project is a success because of the partners involved, including ADCNR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Auburn University and the Weiss Lake Improvement Association.
“This project would not be successful without all of our partners,” Carlee said. “A lot of stakeholders have been involved in the Coosa relicensing process that have come together to return this stretch of river to a more natural state.”
Carlee said the project also brings him personal satisfaction.
“I’m a fisheries major from Auburn University, so my time in college I spent studying the fishes here 20 years ago,” he said. “To be a part of reintroducing flows to this stretch of river and to be able to see the transition that occurs when you return it to a more normal state, as a biologist, it’s a great feeling.”