Black Warrior Riverkeeper celebrates its 15th anniversary

Black Warrior Riverkeeper celebrates its 15th anniversary
Caroline Japal / Alabama Crimson White

Black Warrior Riverkeeper is a Birmingham-based nonprofit dedicated to helping protect the Black Warrior River watershed.

Five years ago the Birmingham-based nonprofit Black Warrior Riverkeeper was celebrating its 10th anniversary on the Bama Belle when one of the boat’s engines broke. The boat would be out of commission for almost five years, returning this past February. Now, Black Warrior Riverkeeper is returning to Tuscaloosa to celebrate its fifteenth anniversary on the Bama Belle, cruising the river it works every day to protect. 

“Environmentalism is a very efficient and effective way of loving one's neighbors because the environment affects everyone,” said Charles Scribner, the executive director of Black Warrior Riverkeeper. “Doesn't matter what your politics are, what your background is, or what you're interested in. We all need clean water in order to survive and thrive. There are a million people that live in the Black Warrior River Watershed so if I can do anything to help to make their water quality better I'll feel really good about that.”

Black Warrior Riverkeeper is an organization dedicated to helping protect the Black Warrior River watershed, including the river and all creeks and lakes connected to it in 17 counties across the state. Tuscaloosa was chosen for the celebration for a few reasons, according to Scribner. Among which include the fact that the river and the city of Tuscaloosa both have the same namesake, Choctaw Chief Tuskaloosa, and the fact that most of the organization's volunteers are UA students. 

“I think the biggest challenge [with] environmental issues is often the results of our efforts are not immediately seen,” he said. “We're protecting our neighbors but we're also protecting future generations. The decisions we make now really affect people downstream, and I don't just mean downstream literally although that is certainly the case, but also downstream figuratively in the case that we're protecting future generations from pollution and harm.”

Senior public relations major Hope Runyan is currently working as an intern at Black Warrior Riverkeeper. As part of her internship, she works on various projects for the organization and reaches out to volunteers across the 17 counties in the watershed. Working with Black Warrior Riverkeeper, she said, has given her a new appreciation for the river and the resources it provides, including drinking water.

“You know you're supposed to recycle but eventually you kind of forget to do some of those things,” Runyan said. “I think that after everything I'm learning, I want to keep it with me and learn to apply to every day. Anywhere I go after graduation, even if I leave Alabama, there's going to be another watershed because you're always living in a watershed and there's probably going to be pollutants and things like that. There's always something for you to do to help the environment.”

William Andreen, a professor in environmental law and administrative law at the University, has been active in the environmental community in Alabama for 30 years. He’s currently a member of Black Warrior Riverkeeper’s Board of Directors as well as a member of its legal committee.

“To me, it's a matter of stewardship,” Andreen said. “We have a marvelous planet with fantastic resources and we have a duty to take care of it and pass it on to future generations in as good a shape as we found it or better.” 

For Scribner, he said he doesn’t think the organization’s work will ever be done. 

“Even if we made so much progress that it seemed as if there were no more battles to fight the minute that we turn our backs and declare victory there’s going to be some new threat creeping into the watershed,” Scribner said. “So it really takes the vigilance of not just our staff but our thousands of members to contact us consistently and report pollution.” 

Citizens who see anything out of the ordinary on the river can also report the occurrence to Black Warrior Riverkeeper through their website blackwarriorriver.org. There they’ll find a list of problems currently facing the river as well as an interactive form to report pollution. 

“I think that, politically, unfortunately, people are fed this lie that we need to choose between the environment and jobs so it's been a little bit disappointing to see in a state that is so incredibly outdoorsy and has such beautiful and valuable natural resources that there isn't a very good effort from our politicians to protect those resources,” Scribner said. “But at the same time what has made me so happy is that there are so many non-profit environmental organizations and so many citizens that have the spirit and wanted to protect those resources. So where our government is failing, the citizens are picking up the slack and that's very inspiring.” 

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