Roebuck Spring

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This article is about the spring, for the residential subdivision, see Roebuck Springs subdivision.

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Roebuck Spring is a natural spring located within the present boundaries of the Alabama Department of Youth Services Vacca Campus and Birmingham's Roebuck-Hawkins Park in the Roebuck Springs-South Roebuck neighborhood of the Roebuck-South East Lake community.

The area around the spring served as the homestead of George Roebuck, who built a log cabin alongside it in 1850. Part of his homestead, including most of the spring pond, became the Alabama Boys Industrial School in 1899. The area below the spring was developed as the Roebuck Springs Country Club.

In about 1900 a small pond, approximately 150 feet wide by 450 feet long, was created by damming Roebuck Spring with a soil and fieldstone berm. A spring house was also constructed of fieldstone and decorated with a small water wheel. The building housed pumping equipment to supply the Industrial School with water.

Watercress darter habitat

Main article: Watercress darter

Roebuck Spring is the largest of a handful of streams in Jefferson County which support isolated populations of endangered watercress darters. The population at Roebuck Spring's pool and upper run was first described in 1978 and has since been the subject of several surveys and studies.

From time to time beavers would dam the spring run, limiting the movement of the fish and eventually causing flooding in park areas. Researchers would occasionally contact Regina Nummy, director of Roebuck-Hawkins Park to have the beaver dams dismantled. This was typically done by hand, until September 19, 2008 when a Birmingham Department of Public Works supervisor sent a crew with heavy equipment to remove a beaver dam as well as the soil and fieldstone berm, and to and dredge the bottom of the spring run. The resulting draining of the pond and damage to the stream killed an estimated 11,760 watercress darters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries investigated. Mayor Larry Langford requested that the City Council approve continuing his $10,000 initial contract with Balch & Bingham to assist in defending the city against possible federal action.

An emergency permit was secured to allow city workers to comply with a Fish and Wildlife Service order to restore the pond without using heavy equipment. Sandbags were stacked in the breach to gradually raise the pond back to its original pool level of approximately 12 inches. An aerator was used to restore oxygen levels and teams of biologists and volunteers acting through the Alabama Rivers Alliance monitored water quality and observed any signs of changes in the fish population.

On March 18, 2009 the city installed an overflow drain comprised of a concrete drain enclosure and corrugated plastic piping with adjustable inlet walls. The design was approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service and permitted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A non-native crayfish population that had been preying on the fish was also eradicated. The temporary dam was later replaced with a tamper-proof dam specially designed for the pond. By June 2009 scientists from the University of Alabama found about half as many individual fish in the pond as in previous years. Signs were posted around the stream's run to emphasize that the spring was a protected habitat. On June 24, 2010, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service levied a fine of $2,975,000 against the city. The Service said the city was initially helpful in restoring the habitat, but did not respond to further measures needed to protect the fish. In January 2012, it was reported that a settlement had been proposed in which the federal government would drop the fine if Birmingham donated $182,000 to the Freshwater Land Trust and continue its efforts to protect the pond's fragile ecosystem. Despite those precautions, another public works crew dewatered the upper portion of the spring run in 2013, causing a second fish kill.

In 2018 the Freshwater Land Trust partnered with the City of Birmingham and the Fish & Wildlife Service to plan and carry out a larger habitat restoration project, including the removal of selected paved areas and the construction of bioswales for stormwater retention, filtration and dispersion.

Watercress darter (Etheostoma nuchale)
Habitats Glenn Springs · Nabors Branch · Roebuck Spring · Tapawingo Springs · Thomas Spring · Turkey Creek
Preserves Seven Springs Ecoscape · Turkey Creek Nature Preserve · Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge
People R. D. Caldwell (co-discoverer) · Larry Davenport · Mike Howell (co-discoverer) · Heron Johnson