Living adjacent to the Cahaba River, a mother of three created a lifetime of memories with her children fishing, swimming, and picnicking by the pristine waters of the river. A generation later, her grandchildren are not allowed to swim there because the water quality is so compromised. The mother in our story is Myra Crawford, PhD, MPH, a retired clinical research professor and director of research at the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Medicine. Dr. Crawford has lived half a mile from the Cahaba River for more than 50 years. The confluence of her retirement, a river in peril, and her love of that river led her to found the Cahaba Riverkeeper, an environmental nonprofit organization. Dr. Crawford understood the importance and urgency of collecting pertinent scientific data about the river’s problems. Making those data available to the public was the first step in calling attention to the plight of the Cahaba and managing its many challenges.
A University of Alabama student spent his free time canoeing and exploring the Cahaba River, and eventually, so taken by the river’s beauty, he began to lead guided tours. As he became more familiar with the river, it was obvious to him that something was wrong. People would ask him if it was safe to swim or fish in the river and he didn’t have an answer, nor could he find the answers. They just weren’t available, or they didn’t exist. The student guide in this story is David Butler. To find answers to the many questions he had about the river, David first volunteered for Cahaba Riverkeeper, then became a board member, and today serves fulltime as the official Riverkeeper and staff attorney. David’s commitment to the Cahaba inspired him to return to school earning a law degree from the Birmingham School of Law in order to navigate the many legal and bureaucratic issues facing the organization in its advocacy for a healthy river.
CAHABA RIVERKEEPER MISSION
The Cahaba Riverkeeper mission is to defend the ecological integrity of the Cahaba River and its watershed, to ensure clean water and a healthy aquatic environment, and to preserve the recreational and visual values of the river basin. The organization’s primary focus is the scientific study of the physical and esthetic properties of the Cahaba and its tributaries. Cahaba Riverkeeper also investigates and, if necessary, brings to justice lawbreakers who ignore the Clean Water Act and threaten the rights of citizens to enjoy the precious resources the Cahaba makes available.