The Tennessee Basin in Alabama is somewhat unique from other river basins in the central and southern regions of the state in that there are fewer creeks and rivers with names derived from Native American culture. There is no easy explanation for this anomaly.
This description of major and minor tributaries to the Tennessee River will be broken into sections. The sections are broken down according to the area immediately below one dam, or impoundment to the next downstream dam. For simplicities sake these sections will be referred to according to the next downstream lake but keep in mind that some tributaries do not flow into an impounded section of water. Refer to maps when possible.
GUNTERSVILLE LAKE SECTION
Battle Creek, Bengis Creek, Big Coon Creek, Big Fiery Gizzard Creek, Big Spring Creek, Black Oak Creek, Brown Creek, Coon Creek, Cross Creek, Crow Creek, Jones Creek, Kirby Creek, Little Coon Creek, Long Island Creek, Miller Creek, Mud Creek, North Sauty Creek, Piney Creek, South Sauty Creek, Scarham Creek, Short Creek, Sweden Creek, Town Creek, Whippoorwill Creek, Widow’s Creek
The Guntersville Lake Section of the Tennessee River Basin drains large portions of Marshall, Jackson, and De Kalb counties and smaller portions of Cullman, Blount, and Etowah counties in Alabama. Portions of Marion, Franklin, and Grundy counties in Tennessee occupy the northern basin as well as a small portion of Dade County, Georgia. Major towns in the basin include Scottsboro, Guntersville, Stevenson, Bridgeport, and Albertville, Alabama and South Pittsburg and Jasper, Tennessee. This section of the Tennessee Basin occupies approximately 2,010 square miles. (EPA)
Blowing Wind Cave and Fern Cave both lie within this section of the Basin as do Lake Guntersville and Buck�s Pocket State Parks. There are many wildlife management areas: Mud Creek, North Sauty Creek, Raccoon Creek, and Skyline State Wildlife Management areas. TVA has Small Wild Areas designated at Cave Mountain, Big Spring Creek, Coon Gulf, Honeycomb Creek (site of Quarry Cave- gray bat populations), and South Sauty Creek. Previously designated protection areas were at Mink Creek, and Honey Bluff. (TVA- Guntersville)
South Sauty Creek begins in north Dekalb County just east of the small town of Henagar. This pretty creek flows southwest along Dekalb county’s northern border. It reaches its climax at Buck’s Pocket State Park, where the creek flows through a deep and spectacular gorge. Below this gorge South Sauty Creek enters on the south side of Lake Guntersville where Dekalb, Jackson and Marshall counties come together.
Town Creek begins at the foot of Fox Mountain along the Tennessee Valley Divide near the Alabama / Georgia state line. Town Creek is the primary drainage along the north side of the Tennessee Valley Divide. It flows in a southwesterly direction before entering Lake Guntersville at Lake Guntersville State Park on the south side of the lake.
WHEELER LAKE SECTION
Aldridge Creek, Beaverdam Creek, Brier Fork, Cedar Creek, Clear Creek, Cotaco Creek, Elam Creek, Elk River, Estill Fork, First Creek, Flint Creek, Flint River, Guess Creek, Hester Creek, Huntsville Spring, Hurricane Creek, Indian Creek, Larkin Fork, Lick Fork, Limestone Creek, Little Limestone Creek, Mallard Creek, Mill Creek, Miller Branch, Moore Branch, Mountain Fork, Mud Creek, No Business Creek, Paint Rock Creek, Piney Creek, Round Island Creek, Second Creek, Sixmile Creek, Swan Creek, West Flint Creek, Wheeler Lake
The Wheeler Lake Section of the Tennessee River Basin drains virtually all of Morgan and Madison counties, portions of Limestone, Jackson, Lawrence, and Marshall counties and small portions of Cullman and Lauderdale counties in Alabama. Portions of Franklin, Lincoln, and a piece of Giles counties in Tennessee occupy the northern basin. Major towns include Huntsville, Decatur, Athens, and Hartselle in Alabama. This section of the Tennessee Basin occupies approximately 2,877 square miles. (EPA)
TVA originally purchased 103,400 acres of land for the Wheeler Lake project. Of this land area, approximately 49,200 acres are inundated or floodprone, 15,600 acres have been sold, 10,300 acres have been transferred, and 17,000 acres are managed or leased for private water-use facilities. Less than 11.5% of the original purchase, or 11,300 acres, remains to meet future public needs within this TVA project area. (TVA Wheeler Plan)
Approximately 18,198 acres of former TVA lands within several Tennessee watershed sections have been transferred to public agencies for parks, recreation areas, and wildlife management areas. These areas include: Redstone Arsenal (2,905 acres), Joe Wheeler State Park (1,939 acres), Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge (8,318 acres), Swan Creek State Wildlife Management Area (3,045 acres), Decatur Point Mallard Municipal Park (375 acres), and Mallard / Fox Creek State Wildlife Management Area (1,616 acres).
The estimated population of the Wheeler area is 626,800 people. Madison county is both the population center and the economic center of this area accounting for 41% of the area’s labor pool. (TVA)
The Elk River begins in Tennessee and drains into Wheeler Lake about 10 miles upstream from Wheeler Dam. The Elk is the largest tributary draining into Wheeler Lake and represents the highest concentration of private residential development within the Reservoir corridor. The pooling waters of Wheeler Lake extend upstream into the Elk for approximately 25 miles. The city of Athens, Alabama, just east of the Elk, utilizes the river to provide its public water supply. The upper Elk River just above the Tennessee / Alabama border harbors populations of the endangered Boulder darter.
The Flint River is one of the largest tributaries to the Tennessee River in Alabama and is also one of the last free-flowing tributaries within the Tennessee Basin. 83 species of fish have documented from the Flint River. The Flint River could be considered the heart river of Madison County because other than the headwaters of the basin, the vast majority of this subwatershed flows within the county’s boundaries. The river and its tributaries also branch out to cover a majority of the land area in the county, especially in north Madison County. The basin surrounds, but does not flow through the city of Huntsville.
The Paint Rock River is one of Alabama’s most spectacular rivers. Because it is one of the last free-flowing tributaries in the Tennessee Basin of Alabama, it supports a tremendous diversity of aquatic species. 98 species of fish have been documented from the Paint Rock River. Paint Rock is the first major river to enter the Tennessee River below Guntersville Dam and is technically part of the upper Wheeler Lake section. Many of the Paint Rock’s upper tributaries actually begin within Tennessee. The upper tributaries of Estill Fork and Hurricane Creek converge to form the Paint Rock in northwestern Jackson County.
LOWER ELK RIVER TRIBUTARIES
Agnew Creek, Anderson Creek, Big Creek, Buchanon Creek, Dry Weakley Creek, Lynn Creek, Mill Creek, Pigeon Roost Creek, Richland Creek, Robertson Fork Creek, Shannon Creek, Shoal Creek, Sugar Creek, Wheeler Lake, Yokley Creek
The Elk River in Alabama drains portions of Lauderdale and Limestone counties. The majority of the Elk River occupies the Tennessee counties of Lawrence, Giles, and Marshall counties. Major towns include Pulaski, Cornersville and Minor Hill in Tennessee. This section of the Tennessee Basin occupies approximately 927 square miles. A new population of the mountain madtom (Noturus eleutherus) was recently discovered in the Elk River in Alabama.
PICKWICK LAKE SECTION
Bear Creek, Big Nance Creek, Bluewater Creek, Bluff Creek, Borden Creek, Burcham Creek, Butler Creek, Cane Creek, Caney Creek, Chisolm Creek, Cook Creek, Crowson Creek, Cypress Creek, Dry Creek, Factory Creek, Grassy Creek, Greenbrier Branch, Holly Creek, Knob Creek, Little Bear Creek, Little Cypress Creek, Mill Creek, Mud Creek, Pickwick Lake, Pond Creek, Richardson Creek, Second Creek, Shawnette Creek, Shoal Creek, Sinking Creek, Smith Creek, Spring Creek, Tennessee River, Town Creek, Wilson Lake, Yellow Creek
The Pickwick Lake Section in Alabama drains large portions of Lauderdale, Colbert and Lawrence counties and a small portion of Franklin County. Mississippi portions of the basin occur in Alcorn, Prentiss, and Tishomingo counties. Portions of Lawrence and Wayne counties and a small portion of Hardin County in Tennessee also occupy the upper basin. Major towns include Lawrenceburg inTennessee, and Florence, Sheffield and Tuscumbia in Alabama. This section of the Tennessee Basin occupies approximately 2,284 square miles.
BEAR CREEK TRIBUTARIES
Bluff Creek, Brown’s Creek, Buzzard Roost Creek, Cedar Creek, Cripple Deer Creek, Dunkin Creek, Harris Creek, Lick Creek, Little Bear Creek, Little Cripple Deer Creek, Pickwick Lake, Rock Creek, Turkey Creek
Bear Creek and its tributaries run through Franklin and Colbert counties and small portions of Marion, Lawrence, and Winston counties in Alabama. Small portions occur in Mississippi in Tishomingo and Itawamba counties.