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.

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Twelve Months of Alabama Rivers!

Alabama Water Watch works to protect Alabama’s precious water resources by training citizens to collect credible water quality data from rivers, lakes, and other local waterbodies.  Educating people about Alabama’s waters and helping them to find a meaningful connection to their watershed is an important part of what we do.

Lucky for us, Alabama has so much to offer in the way of water resources, it is easy to foster these connections.  With 132,000 miles of streams and rivers, Alabama can call itself “the River State”. Moreover, each river has a unique set of flora and fauna, geology, culture and history that can provide you with a lifetime’s worth of learning.

How much do you know about your own river basin? Check out AWW’s Twelve Months of Alabama Rivers  campaign to test your knowledge and learn more. During each month of 2021, we will be publishing blog articles and social media posts that highlight the unique and interesting characteristics of each of the state’s major river basins.

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All about The Conecuh River Basin

The Conecuh River is a 230-mile long river in the Coastal Plain that covers nine Alabama counties.  Its headwaters begin in Bullock County near the town of Union Springs. Once the river crosses the state line into Florida, it is called the Escambia River where it ultimately drains into the Escambia Bay near Pensacola. 

The Conecuh is the largest of the Coastal Plain rivers in Alabama.

The Conecuh River Basin encompasses 3,848 square miles in Alabama, covering nine counties in the Coast Plain physiographic province. Map by Sydney Smith
Big Escambia Creek near Turtle Point Science Center in Flomaton, AL. Photo Credit: Sydney Smith

Much of the Conecuh and its tributaries can be characterized as slowly meandering, soft-bottomed streams with slightly acidic water due to a high level of tannins from decomposing plant material. These same tannins are what gives the water a “tea” or dark brown color that is often called “blackwater“. There are also numerous springs in the basin, due to the sandy subsoils and surface-to-groundwater connectivity.

Historically, much of the upland portion of the Conecuh Basin was longleaf pine savanna. Due to aggressive logging practices in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, the vast majority of old-growth longleaf pine was cut for timber.

Bear Head Creek within the Conecuh National Forest near Andalusia, AL. Photo Credit: Rachel McGuire

The USDA Forest Service’s Conecuh National Forest falls within the Conecuh River Basin. The Forest was established in 1936 and encompasses 84,000 acres between Andalusia, AL and the Florida state line. Since the turn of the 21st century, Forest priorities have focused on restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem and habitat enhancement for the red-cockaded woodpecker. Beginning in 2010, the USDA Forest Service, AL Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Orianne Society, Zoo Atlanta, and Auburn University have collaborated as part of the Eastern Indigo Snake Re-introduction Project in the Conecuh National Forest. The Eastern indigo snake is the longest snake native to North America (it can reach lengths greater than 8 feet!) and has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1978.

A special type of upland depressional wetland, known as a Citronelle pond, is found within the Conecuh River Basin. They are typically filled with water in the winter and spring and experience frequent drying out with little to no connection with other surface waters. Although the origin of Citronelle ponds is still debated, they are only known to occur in parts of Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. 

1968 aerial photography of varying shapes and sizes of Citronelle Ponds in eastern Escambia County, Alabama. Source: Folkerts (1997) – Citronelle Ponds: Little-known Wetlands of the Central Gulf Coastal Plain, USA

The predominant trees found in and near Citronelle ponds are pond cypress and swamp tupelo. Fish are noticeably absent from these ponds, likely due to frequent drying. As is the case for most embedded wetlands, Citronelle ponds are important sites for amphibian breeding. Unfortunately, most Citronelle ponds have been destroyed or severely altered due to farming in the Coastal Plain. 

NOTABLE TRIBUTARIES, EVENTS & PEOPLE

1929 Flood

The March 1929 Flood was the first time in U.S. history that military aircraft were mobilized for civilian emergency aid. Between March 13-15, 1929, the town of Evergreen received over 19 inches of run, causing the Conecuh and other surrounding rivers and tributaries to flood excessively. Thousands of people were stranded on rooftops, highways, bridges, and railroads were washed away, and all communication lines went down. Maxwell Field, a United States Army Air Corps facility at that time in Montgomery, sent aircraft to observe conditions and airdropped food and supplies to the Red Cross during the relief effort.

Aerial view of Keego, Alabama, after the Conecuh River flood in March 1929. Photo Credit: Alabama Department of Archives & History

Battle of Burnt Corn Creek

The Battle of Burnt Corn Creek occurred on July 7, 1813 on a bend of the Burnt Corn Creek. It is oftentimes noted as the first true battle of the Creek War of 1813-1814. This battle resulted in the Red Stick faction of the Creeks defeating the aggressor: the Washington County militia led by Col. James Caller. The Red Sticks staged a retaliatory raid on Fort Mims in late August of 1813 as a result known as the “Fort Mims Massacre“.

Murder Creek

Murder Creek is a small stream flowing between the two towns of Brewton and East Brewton, previously known as Aloochahatcha (Luko Hatchee) Creek. According to Colonel A. J. Pickett (History of Alabama, 1851) , Murder Creek, got its name from a “bloody tragedy enacted upon its banks in 1788.”  Colonel Kirkland of South Carolina, along with the majority of his men were robbed and killed by a group of outlaws on their way to Pensacola to procure passports to settle in the then-Spanish province of Louisiana. Following their attack, the murderous outlaws proceeded to spend the night on the banks of the creek next to the carnage and bodies of their making.

Hank Williams

Hank Williams, the famous country singer-songwriter, was born in the Conecuh Basin in the town of Mount Olive. Williams began his short, but extremely influential career in Montgomery, AL.

Mancil Rock, Conecuh River. Photo Credit: Alan Cressler

WILDLIFE

The Conecuh River is home to 84 freshwater fish species. Some fish you may encounter in the basin include the pirate perch, speckled madtom, ironcolor shiner, Gulf sturgeon, American eel, bowfin, blacktail redhorse, striped mullet, coastal darter, harlequin darter, and the saddleback darter.

The Escambia Map Turtle is another Conecuh Basin native that is only found in southern Alabama and western Florida. A unique attribute of this turtle species is the extreme degree of sexual dimorphism, or physical differences in size, shape, and general appearance, between the male and female. The female’s shell can grow to 11 inches, but males are substantially smaller, measuring in at a mere five inches of shell. Adult females have a huge head that appears disproportionate to their bodies, while the males retain a narrow, juvenile head. The male and young female Escambia map turtles eat aquatic insects, while the adult females eat almost exclusively bi-valve mussels using their massive head muscles.

A hatchling Escambia map turtle. Photo Credit: Kenneth P. Wray

The Alabama shad (Alosa alabamae) is a silver-colored fish with a greenish-blue back and clear fins. Adults grow to 12-18 inches, weighing 3-5 pounds. The Alabama shad is a member of the Clupeidae family which also includes herrings, sardines, and menhadens. The Alabama shade is anadromous, with the adults living in saltwater the majority of their lives, but migrating upstream into freshwater rivers to spawn in the March-April timeframe. Juveniles stay in freshwater their first 6-8 months of life.  Populations have become increasingly rare largely due to locks and dams blocking access to up-river spawning grounds. It is listed by the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service as a species of special concern. 

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

Overview of Variables Tested by Alabama Water Watch Volunteers

This article will provide an overview of all of the variables tested by certified Alabama Water Watch volunteer monitors, what the data mean. To know whether or not the data indicate water quality issues, it is necessary to have some understanding of Water Quality Standards, so we’ve briefly explained Water Quality Standards for Alabama. The information included could be helpful for interested volunteers who are trying to get started as monitors, people who want to learn more about water quality in their watershed, or certified volunteers who are reviewing the data at their sites.

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