All About the Escatawpa and Perdido River Basins

The Escatawpa River is a 129-mile long river in southwest Alabama and southeast Mississippi that originates in the town of Millry, AL.  It is a tributary of the Pascagoula River that ultimately drains into the Gulf of Mexico at Pascagoula Bay. The Escatawpa flows through two counties in Alabama: Washington and Mobile. Escatawpa means “where cane is cut” in the Choctaw language. Cane refers to the Southeast’s native bamboo, Arundinaria spp. also known as rivercane.

The Perdido River is a 65-mile long river in southwest Alabama and northwest Florida. The Perdido forms the western boundary between Alabama and Florida for almost its entire length, ultimately draining into the Perdido Bay of the Gulf of Mexico. Its headwaters begin in Escambia County, AL northwest of the town of Atmore, flows into Baldwin County, AL, and shares the state line with Escambia County, FL. Perdido means “lost” in Spanish and was named by Spanish settlers who occupied the area until 1813.

The Escatawpa and Perdido Rivers are both found in the Coastal Plain physiographic region.

The Escatawpa (left) and Perdido (right) River Basins. The Perdido River Basin encompasses 1,100 square miles, approximately 70% of which are in Alabama. The Escatawpa River Basin is split between Alabama and Mississippi. Map by Sydney Smith

The Escatawpa River is known as the “Dog River” to many locals. The Escatawpa has a rapid transition from freshwater to brackish waters in its lower reaches. In the 1980’s, the National Park Service conducted an investigation to designate the Escatawpa as an official “Wild and Scenic River”. Strong, local opposition resulted in the National Park Service not pursuing designation of the select, 74-mile stretch of the Escatawpa.

1906 Postcard “A view on Dog River”. Photo Credit: Alabama Department of Archives & History Digital Collection

The Perdido is considered the highest quality free-flowing blackwater river remaining in the southern Coastal Plain. It has sandy bottoms and a deep, slow moving channel flowing through forested swamps and wetlands, including pitcher plant bogs, slash pine flatwoods, marsh wetlands, upland longleaf pine savannahs, and rare Atlantic white cedar stands. At the mouth of the Perdido River lies the Perdido Bay – a shallow estuary enclosed by barrier islands and a small inlet known as the Perdido Pass.

Perdido Beach in Orange Beach, AL. Photo Credit: Sydney Smith

WATER QUALITY CONCERNS

In the Escatawpa Basin, 85 miles of waterbodies are listed as impaired under the Alabama Department of Environmental Management 303(d) List of Impaired Waters, including the Escatawpa River, Big Creek Lake, Boggy Branch, Collins Creek, Hamilton Creek, and Puppy Creek. Five of these waterbodies are listed as impaired by heavy metals such as mercury, lead, iron, and arsenic, while one waterbody is listed for pathogen (E.coli) impairment due to pasture grazing.

There are currently no active Alabama Water Watch Volunteer Monitoring sites active in the Escatawpa River Basin.

303(d) Listed waterbodies (displayed in red) in the Escatawpa (left) and Perdido River Basins (right). Data from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

In the Perdido River Basin, 81 miles of waterbodies are listed as impaired under the Alabama Department of Environmental Management 303(d) List of Impaired Waters, including Boggy Branch, Dyas Creek, Brushy Creek, Styx River, Blackwater River, Perdido River, Wolf Creek, and Sandy Creek.

Nine of these waterbodies are listed as impaired by metals such as mercury and lead and five waterbodies are listed for pathogens (E.coli and Enterococcus) impairment due to pasture grazing, atmospheric deposition, and collection system failure.

There are currently 15 active Alabama Water Watch monitoring sites in the Perdido River Basin.

NOTABLE SUBJECTS, AREAS & EVENTS

Spanish Artifacts and European Influence

Spanish artifacts found in the Perdido River Basin, including coins and guns, suggested the Perdido River and Bay were used by smugglers avoiding Spanish custom duties during the Colonial period. Many of these artifacts date back to the 1500’s. The town of Perdido Beach was a historical rendezvous point for pirates. Many a story of buried treasure circulate regarding the Perdido Key and immediate areas.

Spanish artifacts (silver buttons) found in Perdido Bay, Alabama. Photo Credit: Smithsonian Institution and State of Florida.

Interstate Mullet Toss

Perdido Key is home to the infamous Interstate Mullet Toss along the Alabama/Florida line. Participants throw a dead mullet over the state line, with the farthest toss taking home the prize. This event is always held the last full weekend in April and is considered the “Gulf Coast’s Greatest Beach Party”.

2019 Interstate Mullet Toss. Photo Credit: Lawrence Specker; AL.com

Big Creek Lake

Big Creek Lake is west of Mobile Bay. This 3,600-acre impoundment of Big Creek, a tributary of the Escatawpa River, serves as a primary drinking water source for the city of Mobile.

Big Creek Lake at Howells Ferry Road. Photo Credit: Kayaking the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta Blog

WILDLIFE

The Escatawpa and Perdido River Basins are home to a mixture of freshwater, anadromous, and, at the bottom of the basin, saltwater fish species. Some fish you may encounter include the striped bass, chain pickerel, longear sunfish, longnose gar, skipjack herring, hogchoker, and the rainwater killifish.

The Perdido Key beach mouse is a federally endangered species found none other than Perdido Key. This mouse has gray fur on its back extending between the eyes with white cheeks, tail, and belly. The beach mouse eats dune plant seeds and insects. The Perdido Key beach mouse inhabits the coastal dunes along Perdido Key in Baldwin County, AL and Escambia County, Florida only. Beach mice populations are threatened by coastal development that degrade or destroy sand dunes as well as increased foot traffic on dunes.

A Perdido Key Beach Mouse Photo Credit: U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

The endangered Alabama red-bellied turtle can be found in the lower Pascagoula River and its tributaries, including the Escatawpa River. The Alabama red-bellied turtle is the state reptile of Alabama. These turtles are found in shallow, vegetated blackwater streams, rivers, bays, and bayous in or near Mobile Bay. They are herbivores, predominately feeding on submerged, aquatic macrophytes (i.e. hydrilla, eel-grass, arrowhead, and mud plantain).

Alabama Red-Bellied Turtle. Photo Credit: Kenneth P. Wray

West Indian manatees, the Alabama state marine mammal, have been seen for decades in the Lower Perdido Bay. Due to indications that manatees were traveling to and using habitat in Alabama and nearby waters more often in recent years, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) initiated the West Indian Manatee Study. The public can report manatee sightings to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Manatee Sighting Network.

An adult manatee with algae growing on its back.
The American Alligator is a large reptile that can grow up to 19 feet, weigh up to 1,000 pounds, and live up to 50 years. Alligators can remain underwater for up to 1 hour! They hunt predominately at night and can be found in the Coastal Plain from North Carolina to East Texas. Once listed as federally endangered, the American Alligator has made quite a recovery since the late 1960’s, now listed as a species of least concern.

Do you have photos or videos on the Escatawpa or Perdido River or any of their tributaries you would like to share with AWW? If so, upload your photo/video through this submission form.