Birmingham Roebuck Springs habitat for the endangered Watercress darter to be restored

Freshwater Land Trust’s Jeffery Drummond, photo from the Freshwater Land Trust

This week, the Freshwater Land Trust breaks ground on a restoration project at Roebuck Springs in Don Hawkins Park. The project will improve and restore the home of the Watercress darter, one of the rarest fish on planet earth.

The Watercress darter is federally endangered and it is only found within Jefferson County.  Roebuck Springs is one of only five places where the fish is known to live.

The restoration project is a partnership between the Freshwater Land Trust, City of Birmingham and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“This restoration project is helpful to ensuring a healthy and stable population of this beautiful fish,” says Jeffrey Drummond, stewardship director at the Freshwater Land Trust. “Our restoration projects at three other sites in Jefferson County have increased darter populations, and we are proud to collaborate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the City of Birmingham to improve the darter’s habitat at Roebuck Springs.”

Birmingham Roebuck
Roebuck Springs. Photo from the Freshwater Land Trust.

The project involves removing some of the surrounding asphalt and replacing it with bioretention areas and bioswales. Native plants will also be added to reduce erosion and to serve as a natural filtration for storm water.

“The designed bioswales and retention areas will filter, slow, and cool the stormwater flows, allowing cleaner, healthier water to enter the spring run habitat of the watercress darter,” said Eric Spadgenske, State Coordinator with U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

According to a Land Trust news release, in the past, the watercress darter population thrived at Roebuck Springs because of a number of factors, including a dam built over one hundred years ago when Don Hawkins Park was first created. In 2008, the dam was removed. The City of Birmingham then created a buffer area around the spring in an effort to protect the darter’s habitat.

Birmingham Alabama
Watercress darter mural in East Lake – photo by Pat Byington

In 2010, the Freshwater Land Trust proposed to restore and conserve the area, and an agreement between the City of Birmingham and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service named the Freshwater Land Trust to facilitate the restoration of the darter’s habitat at Roebuck Springs.

Restoration work is scheduled to be completed this summer.

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.