The Black Warrior River System is the largest watershed wholly within Alabama’s state boundaries. The river is divided into two sections; its upper portion lies above the Fall Line at Tuscaloosa, and its lower flatter portion enters the Tombigbee at Demopolis. The tributaries that contribute to its flow along the way are numerous and diverse.
Before the Black Warrior earns its name it starts as three of Alabama’s most significant forks. The largest of these, the Sipsey Fork, is the western most fork, and flows into the Mulberry Fork, the center prong. These merged streams flow together until they meet the Locust Fork, the right prong, at the Jefferson and Walker County line. It is here that they become the Black Warrior River. The natural union of these powerful forks has now been submerged under the waters of Bankhead Lake. All of these forks flow through sandstone canyons of the Cumberland Plateau and provide some of Alabama’s best whitewater runs and most scenic vistas.
Thus the Black Warrior is unique in that it does not emanate from one source, but from three primary prongs which come together to give birth to a mighty river.
LOCUST FORK TRIBUTARIES
Big Mud Creek, Blackburn Fork, Bristow Creek, Calvert Prong, Cane Creek, Clear Creek, Crooked Creek, Cunningham Creek, Fivemile Creek, Graves Creek, Gurley Creek, Little Warrior River, Self Creek, Short Creek, Slab Creek, Turkey Creek, Village Creek, Wynnville Creek
The Locust Fork River flows through Jefferson, Marshall, Blount, Etowah, Walker, and St. Clair counties. Major cities in the region include Gardendale, Forestdale, Birmingham and Tarrant City.
Few people are aware that the majority of urbanized Birmingham drains into tributaries of the Locust Fork River, causing significant impairment.
The river drains approximately 1,209 miles (6,020 acres). The geology of the watershed makes it distinctive. The river originates in Marshall, Etowah and Blount counties and flows along the lip of Sand Mountain. This mountain is actually a broad plateau roughly ten miles wide and 80 miles long formed by shifts during Paleozoic time. (Discovering)
In the early days the area was sometimes referred to as the Bear Meat Cabin frontier named after a famous Indian dwelling that served as a trading post. (Discovering)
The Locust Fork is considered one of the best whitewater runs available in Alabama. In Blount County, the river drops more than 500 feet creating up to Class IV rapids. (Keith)
One of the Locust Fork’s most significant subwatersheds is Turkey Creek in northwest Jefferson County. This small creek serves as the only habitat for the endangered Vermillion darter.
Blackburn Fork on the Locust Forks east bank drains south Oneonta and is dammed to form Inland Lake, a source of drinking water for the greater Birmingham area.
MULBERRY FORK TRIBUTARIES
Blackwater Creek, Bridge Creek, Brindley Creek, Broglen River, Cane Creek, Copeland Creek, Dorsey Creek, Duck Creek, Eightmile Creek, Lost Creek, Marriott Creek, Pan Creek, Poley Creek, Sipsey Fork, Splunge Creek, Tibb Creek, Wolf Creek
The Mulberry Fork River flows through Cullman, Jefferson, Marshall, Morgan, Blount, Fayette, Tuscaloosa, Walker, and Winston counties. Major cities include Cullman, Jasper and Cordova. The Mulberry Fork forms the middle prong of the Warrior Forks and much of its mainstem serves as the boundary separating Blount County to the southeast, from Cullman County to the northwest. The river drains approximately 1,387 square miles or 6,055 acres. (EPA)
Both the Locust Fork and Mulberry Fork flow through sandstone canyons.
The upper Mulberry Fork Watershed includes the Broglen River, Duck River, and Upper Mulberry Fork. These tributaries harbor 23, 14, and 21 species of fish respectively with a total of 27 species of fish in this subwatershed.
Fish Diversity drops off markedly in the lower Mulberry and Locust Fork basins, with at least two dozen fish species conspicuously absent. These species still appear in some of the less impacted headwater tributaries of these rivers. Industrial development and urban expansion over the last century may have contributed to the species decline in the lower reaches of these basins. (Mettee et al. 1996)
Many sections of the mainstem Mulberry Fork have seen its mussel populations eliminated. (Hartfield 1990)
SIPSEY FORK TRIBUTARIES
Blevens Creek, Borden Creek, Brushy Creek, Brushy Fork, Caney Creek, Caspey Creek, Clear Creek, Clifty Fork, Crooked Creek, Hubbard Creek, Jones Creek, Mattox Creek, Right Fork, Rush Creek, Ryan Creek, Sandy Creek
The waters of the Sipsey Fork River flow through Cullman, Franklin, Walker, Lawrence, and Winston counties. There are virtually no major cities within the watershed. Haleyville is in the far western corner, and Cullman lies to the far east. The Sipsey Fork covers 22,035 acres.
The Sipsey Fork River is Alabama’s only National Wild and Scenic River System. 61 miles of its west fork above Smith Lake are permanently protected. This section of river is entirely in the boundaries of the William B. Bankhead National Forest. (USGS)
The tributaries of the the Bankhead National Forest, the Sipsey, Clifty and Brushy Forks provide a vital refuge for many important fish and mussel species threatened in less protected habitats of the Black Warrior. 78 species of fish were documented in the Sipsey Fork in 1974, an incredibly high number for such a small watershed area (Metee et al. 1989). Sipsi is the Chickasaw-Choctaw name of the poplar or cottonwood tree.
Fish diversity in Sisey Fork tributaries demonstrates 49 species in the mainstem, 23 in Clear Creek, 40 in Clifty Fork, 13 in Brushy Creek and 19 in Crooked Creek.
Alabama Power Company completed a hydropower generation dam on the Sipsey Fork in September 1961 creating a 21,200 acre impoundment known as Smith Lake. The Sipsey Fork upstream of the reservoir is one of Alabama’s healthiest and most biologically diverse Cumberland Plateau streams.
UPPER BLACK WARRIOR TRIBUTARIES
Big Yellow Creek, Binion Creek, Blue Creek, Carroll Creek, Cripple Creek, Davis Creek, Hurricane Creek, Mud Creek, North River, Pyro Creek, Rock Creek, Valley Creek
North River drains 1,100 square kilometers in Fayette, Tuscaloosa and Walker counties. The river joins the Warrior at the Fall Line in between Holt and Oliver dams. Recent mussel samples found 14 species including two endangered species, the dark pigtoe (Pleurobema furvum) and the orange-nacre mucket (Lampsilis Perovalis). Two rare mussels known from historic sampling were not found. The lower North River was impounded in 1969 and forms Lake Tuscaloosa, which serves as the water supply for the city of Tuscaloosa. (McGregor) A second impoundment is being considered for an upstream section of North River.
LOWER BLACK WARRIOR TRIBUTARIES
Big Brush Creek, Big German Creek, Big Prairie Creek, Big Sandy Creek, Colwell Creek, Cottonwood Creek, Elliotts Creek, Fivemile Creek, Gant Creek, Little Brush Creek, Little Prairie Creek, Minter Creek, Polecat Creek, Sparks Creek, Whitsit Creek
Lower Black Warrior tributaries flow through Greene, Marengo, Bibb, Tuscaloosa, Hale, and Perry counties. Major cities in this basin include Moundville, Akron, Eutaw and Greensboro.