About the Coosa River
The upper Coosa River basin has a higher percentage of endemic species (critters found nowhere else on earth) than any other basin in North America.
Draining more than 5,000 square miles of land, the Upper Coosa River Basin ranges from Southeastern Tennessee and North Central Georgia to Weiss Dam in Northeast Alabama and holds an incredible array of aquatic species.
No other river basin in North America has a higher percentage of endemic species than the Upper Coosa River Basin. Thirty (30) different species of fishes, mussels, snails and crayfishes call the waters of the Coosa—and no where else—home. Researchers call the Upper Coosa Basin a “globally significant biological treasure.”
The Upper Coosa River is the historic home to 100 different fish species, including 12 endemic species. For a river basin in a temperate climate, the Coosa River basin has the greatest number of endemic fish species in the world. This includes six species listed as federally endangered or threatened. Due to the introduction of exotic species, currently, the basin is home to 114 different species.
The basin is also known for its tremendous diversity of mussels and snails. The basin is the historic home to 43 mussel species and 32 species of snails. Sadly, 15 species of mussels and eight species of snails have been lost from the Upper Coosa Basin. In the Upper and Lower Coosa River Basins together, a total of 37 snails and mussels have been lost. Researchers say that this loss is considered the largest single extinction event in U.S. history. Of the mussels and snails remaining in the Upper Coosa River Basin, seven are listed as federally threatened or endangered.
Additionally, the Upper Coosa River Basin is home to 18 species of crayfish.
Threatened and Endangered Species
Federally threatened fish species:
Blue Shiner Cherokee Darter Goldline Darter
Federally endangered fish species:
Etowah Darter Amber Darter Conasauga Logperch
State threatened fish species:
Bluestripe Shiner Holiday (Ellijay) Darter Coldwater Darter
Etowah Darter Cherokee Darter Trispot Darter
Federally threatened mussel species:
Finelined Pocketbook Alabama Moccasinshell
Federally endangered mussel species:
Coosa Moccasinshell Southern Clubshell Southern Pigtoe
Rayed Kidneyshell Georgia Pigtoe
Federally endangered snail species:
Cylindrical Lioplax (extirpated from the Coosa)
Coosa River Fishes:
The Coosa River’s fish population is unique in the variety of minnows and darters found in the water of the basin. These small fish represent over half of the Upper Coosa 114 fish species and all of the endemic and federally listed species. What they lack in size, they make up for in showmanship. Many darters are exceedingly colorful, sporting electric blues, emerald greens and fiery reds.
They generally feed on aquatic insects, though larger species feed on smaller fish and some species eat only plant material.
These fish depend upon flowing, silt-free habitat and high water quality.
Coosa River Mussels:
Freshwater Mussels serve as natural filtration systems that help keep the water clean and clear. They are also a strong “indicator species,” serving as the proverbial canary in a coal mine for our rivers. The loss of five species from the Upper Coosa River and the continuing imperilment of other species, indicates that water quality and habitat for these animals and other aquatic species is poor or declining. Like all mollusks, mussels have a hard shell covering that protects the soft tissues of the animal within. They attach themselves to river bottoms where they lie partially or completely buried, anchored by a single muscular foot. Breathing and feeding are conducted by means of two siphons where water is passed through.
Mussels depend upon fish for reproduction. Fish host the mussel’s larvae which attach to the fish and live there until they develop into juvenile mussels. Mussels can live up to 100 years. They range in size from a quarter to a dinner plate.
Mussels also provide food for some birds, fishes, muskrats, raccoons, otters and other animals. Historically, they were harvested by man and their shells were used for making buttons and other items.
They are dependent upon silt-free, stable river bottoms and high water quality. They are also sensitive to changes in river flows, and the numerous dams on the Coosa and other southern rivers has dramatically reduced suitable habitat for these creatures.
Coosa River Snails:
Like mussels, a snail’s soft tissue is protected by a hard shell which the animal retreats when threatened. This shell grows in a coil around a central column giving most species a distinct spiral shape. Life histories of snails are highly varied but most have separate sexes and reproduce from winter to late spring. Females usually attach eggs to rocks, submerged logs and other firm objects. The eggs hatch in a few weeks and the hatchlings are much smaller that the head of a pin. Most species grow rapidly and are fully mature in on year, with many species living for three to five years. Snails feed by scraping algae and detritus from rocks, vegetation and other firm surfaces.
Freshwater snails are very important ecologically as they help keep our streams clean and healthy and serve as a food source for many other animals. Snails eat so much algae they can often control algal growth thereby positively affecting habitat for other animals. Fishes and crayfish depend upon them as an important food source.
Like mussels, snails depend on stable, low silt environments and many species are sensitive to poor water quality.
Lake Sturgeon Reintroduction:
A holdover from the days of dinosaurs, lake sturgeon are found in the Great Lakes and the Mississsippi River drainage area, and up until the 1960s were found in the Coosa River system. Unfortunately, this unique fish with a shark-like tail, sucker-like mouth and catfish-like barbells under its long snout was driven out of the Coosa River system largely because of overharvesting. In an effort to restore this fish to its original range in the Coosa system, Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) began stocking captive raised sturgeon in the Coosawattee, Oostanaula and Etowah rivers in 2002.
Through December 2004, DNR, often with the help of Northwest Georgia elementary school students, had released a total of 32,179 fingerlings. More were released in 2005 and the stocking program is expected to continue an additional 15 to 20 years. Based on reports from anglers, previously stocked sturgeon are adapting well and thriving in the river.
Harvesting lake sturgeon is not currently permitted. DNR asks anglers who accidently catch lake sturgeon to release the fish as soon as possible.
Visit Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources website to learn more about the revival of this ancient fish in the waters of the Upper Coosa River Basin.
The Coosa–the economic engine of Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama
Drinking Water Source
About 925,000 people live within the Upper Coosa River Basin—most of which depend upon the Coosa and its tributaries as their drinking water source. This area includes all, or portions, of the following counties Bartow, Cobb, Chattooga, Cherokee, Dawson, Floyd, Forsyth, Gilmer, Gordon, Lumpkin, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Walker and Whitfield counties in Georgia and Cherokee County in Alabama.
Communities within the basin withdraw about 124 million gallons a day (MGD) from surface and groundwater sources. The largest single municipal user in the Coosa River Basin is Whitfield County/Dalton which withdraws on average about 37 MGD.
Cherokee County (GA) communities withdraw about 19 MGD from the Etowah and Bartow County communities withdraw about 16 MGD. Floyd County residents use about 14 MGD.
However, the single biggest water user in the basin is actually located mostly outside the basin. The Cobb-Marietta Water Authority withdraws about 65 MGD from Lake Allatoona and pumps it out of the Coosa River Basin for use by homes and businesses located in the Chattahoochee River Basin. Each day, the Coosa River Basin loses about 25 MGD through this interbasin transfer.
Of course, the waterways of the Coosa also receive the wastewater from the basin’s residents. These waterways dilute and assimilate about 98 million gallons of treated wastewater each day from the region’s municipal wastewater treatment facilities.
In addition to serving as the drinking water source and wastewater assimilator for hundreds of thousands of residents of Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama, the waterways of the Coosa River Basin also drive local economies.
From the world-renowned carpet and poultry industries of North Georgia to one of the largest fossil-fuel electric generating facilities in the country, the Coosa and its tributaries provide the water needed to create products, jobs and tax revenue.
The following is a summary of the region’s water-dependent industries from which thousands of Coosa River Basin residents derive their sustenance.
Northwest Georgia is home to the City of Dalton, also known as the Carpet Capital of the World. Some 80 percent of the nation’s carpet is produced in the Coosa River Basin counties of Whitfield, Gordon, Catoosa, Murray and Bartow counties. The area’s carpet industry employs about 50,000 people with an annual payroll estimated at $2 billion.
The primary water source for this industry is the Conasauga River. Each day, Dalton Utilities withdraws about 37 million gallons from the Conasauga and other water sources to fuel the water-intensive carpet manufacturing process. During summer months, as much as one-third of the Conasauga’s flow is removed to meet the demands of the area’s carpet industry, other businesses and residences, according the Conasauga River Alliance.
The largest sector of Georgia’s agricultural economy, the poultry industry is centered in North Georgia within the Coosa and Chattahoochee river basins. Three different poultry processing facilities use water from the streams of the Coosa River Basin in their processes. For instance, at the Goldkist Rendering Plant on the Etowah River in Cherokee County, the facility withdraws 14 million gallons a week from the river to convert seven million pounds of chicken parts into pet food and chicken feed.
Statewide, the poultry industry is a $13.5 billion industry with an annual payroll estimated at $3.8 billion. Each year, Georgia’s poultry industry produces 24.7 million pounds of chicken meat and 8.2 million eggs—all made possible by the state’s bountiful water resources.
Located in Western Floyd County, Temple-Inland Paperboard & Packaging Co. is among Floyd County’s largest employers with 500 workers who take home $37 million each year in wages. Each day, Temple-Inland’s Rome facility uses about 26 million gallons of the Coosa to produce 2300 tons of linerboard. This linerboard is used to make corrugated cardboard paper products used to make corrugated cardboard.
The Coosa River Basin is home to two large fossil fuel, power-generating facilities—Georgia Power’s Plant Bowen located on the Etowah River in Bartow County and Plant Hammond located on the Coosa River in Floyd County. In operation since 1971, Plant Bowen is among the largest fossil fuel power-generating facilities in the nation. Each day the Plant uses 40 million gallons of water from the Etowah to generate 3,160 megawatts of electricity each hour. In just 15 seconds, Plant Bowen can produce as much electricity as a typical home uses in a year. The Plant produces 20 percent of the electricity that Georgia Power sells, and employs about 400 people, paying out $20 million in salaries each year.
Plant Hammond, though not as large as Bowen, still produces an impressive amount of electricity—some 840 megawatts per hour—enough to power nine cities the size of Rome, Georgia for one year. Because Plant Hammond lacks cooling towers like the ones at Bowen, the Plant withdraws and releases about 590 million gallons of the Coosa each day. The Plant employs about 200 people, paying $9 million in salaries each year.
The Upper Coosa River Basin is also home to three major dams, Allatoona on the Etowah River, Carters on the Coosawattee and Wiess on the Coosa. Together, these power generating operations can generate 604 megawatts of electricity.
Weiss Dam was completed in 1961 and creates 30,200-acre Weiss Reservoir. Allatoona Dam was completed in 1950 and creates 19,200-acre Allatoona Reservoir. Carters Dam was completed in 1977 and creates 3,220-acre Carters Reservoir.
Tourism and Recreation
The Upper Coosa River Basin’s man-made reservoirs, along with the rivers and streams that form them, create a multi-million dollar economic impact through recreation and tourism revenues. A study of Lake Allatoona, one the Corps of Engineers most visited projects in the country, showed that the lake had a yearly $93 million impact on local economies.
Weiss Lake is known as the Crappie Capital of the World for its tremendous crappie fishery, and the economy of Cherokee County is highly dependent upon the lake. Each year, lake visitors spend about $145 million locally, and the lake generates about 4,100 jobs in the region worth $36 million in wages, according to studies conducted during the 1990s.