Freshwater Land Trust and partners restore watercress darter habitat in Birmingham’s Roebuck Springs

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Watercress Darter
Left to right: USFWS Daniel Drennen and Freshwater Land Trust Jeffery Drummond at Roebuck Springs restoration project Photo courtesy of Freshwater Land Trust.

Yesterday, the Freshwater Land Trust announced that they have completed their watercress darter habitat restoration project at Roebuck Springs in Don Hawkins Park, in partnership with the City of Birmingham and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Photo of a Watercress darter. Via USFWS.

Roebuck Springs is home to the watercress darter, a federally-endangered fish found only in Jefferson County and is one of only five places where the watercress darter is known to live.

“An improved habitat at Roebuck Springs helps to ensure a healthy population of this rare fish,” said Jeffrey Drummond, stewardship director at the Freshwater Land Trust.

Roebuck Springs is one of several natural springs in Jefferson County that provides the cool, clear, flowing water needed for darter species to thrive. Along with the project at Roebuck Springs, the land trust has enhanced watercress darter habitat at Seven Springs in Birmingham, with members of the Faith Apostolic Church, and at Tapawingo Springs in Pinson.

Home of the Watercress Darter, Seven Springs Ecoscape at the Faith Apostolic Church in Powderly. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

Daniel Drennen from Fish and Wildlife says collaboration between the land trust, Fish and Wildlife, and cities like Birmingham is vital to improving both quality of life for people and ecosystem health for plants and animals.

“Roebuck Springs is an urban oasis, a gem in the middle of an industrial and historical city,” said Drennen. “Our work is assisting the natural spring, which is a unique and precious resource for Birmingham.”

Birmingham, Alabama
Watercress darter mural across from East Lake United Methodist Church – Photo by Pat Byington

The Roebuck Springs project involved removing asphalt from the parking lot, constructing bioretention areas and bioswales, and adding native plants. Designed by Goodwyn Mills and Cawood, these features will slow, filter, and cool runoff water as it flows from the parking lot into the watercress darter’s habitat in the spring.

“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 in March when the restoration project was launched.

Roebuck Springs habitat project. Photo courtesy of Freshwater Land Trust.

A win-win for everyone, the restoration of the Roebuck Springs/Don Hawkins Park habitat for the watercress darter demonstrates that a  rare fish can co-exist in an urban environment, if everyone works together.

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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.
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