The Coosa River, which forms where the Etowah and Oostanaula rivers combine in the city of Rome, is one of the most biodiverse in the southeast. But according to American Rivers, the river and its tributaries are being choked by waste and pollution from massive industrial poultry farms.
American Rivers calls it the 5th most endangered river in the country in 2022, citing industrial poultry farms causing a threat not just to the river's wildlife habitat, but also clean drinking water and public health.
Originally home to the Muscogee and Cherokee nations, the Coosa River now supports drinking water for nearly one million people, power generation, agriculture and ecotourism. The river flows for 600 miles from Rome, Georgia down to Mobile Bay, Alabama.
Several nonprofit organizations in the state work to advocate for action to keep the Coosa River Clean. The Coosa River Basin Initiative, founded in 1993, has worked to protect and preserve the upper Coosa River Basin and its tributaries.
On their website, they point out some of the most unique aspects of the river system's biodiversity. It is home to thirty different species of fish, mussels, snails and crayfish that are unique to the river basin itself, found nowhere else. Because they are not found anywhere else in the world, they are particularly vulnerable to the poor water conditions.
The Coosa River basin has the highest percentage of endemic species of any river system in North America.
The American Rivers endangered rivers report cites the mass industrial poultry farms as the primary source of pollution threatening the river system's biodiversity and clean drinking water.
Poultry farming is a huge arm of Georgia's economy. According to the Georgia Farm Bureau, Georgia has been declared the “Poultry Capital of the World.” On an average day Georgia produces 26 million pounds of chicken and 9.2 million eggs.
Industrial Poultry Farming is responsible for an average of $25.5 billion dollars in Georgia's economy annually, and either directly or indirectly provides jobs for over 100,000 people in the state, cited from a 2017 University of Georgia's Poultry Science presentation.
But as important as the industry is for our state's thriving economy, the Coosa River Basin Initiative, American Rivers, and other nonprofits would argue that the state is not doing enough to think past this dollar figure and look more into the health of the state's water resources.
The American Rivers report cites that millions of tons of chicken feces from the chicken farms are a major threat to the Coosa River’s drinking water supply, "...the waste is spread on fields, and massive industrial poultry operations discharge their wastewater into municipal sewer systems that are crumbling, where permits are inadequate to protect water quality if they are even enforced at all."
So what should be done?
American Rivers argues that the EPA should step in, along with Georgia and Alabama state agencies to protect the safeguards put into place by the 2008 Clean Water Act.
They advocate for holding poultry farms accountable for proper disposal of poultry manure through fines and permit limitations. They also want to push enforcement of 2008's "pollution budget" set into place for Neely Henry Lake in Alabama.
At the lake in Gadsden, Alabama, the sanitary sewer system has been overflowing into waterways, making it unsafe for fishing, swimming, and drinking.
American Rivers comes up with its annual list of "Top Endangered Rivers" after accepting nominations from river groups and citizens across the country. Their top 10 list is not only based on the magnitude of the threat to the river and its communities, but also based on how the public can influence positive change and action in the year to come.
At the top of the list of endangered rivers in 2022 is the Colorado, which stretches from Colorado to the Arizona-Colorado country border with Mexico.