Valley Creek Renew Our Rivers volunteers get it done amid rain showers

Michael Sznajderman

There was some dancing amid the raindrops, but the hundreds of volunteers who braved threatening skies near Valley Creek in Jefferson County on Saturday made a real dent in removing trash and debris from around the urban waterway.

The annual Valley Creek cleanup took place at eight locations Saturday morning, from Birmingham to Midfield to Lipscomb to Pleasant Grove. Volunteers also removed trash at a ninth location, in the McAdory community, the prior Saturday.

It is the eighth year for the cleanup, which in past years took place in the summer. In all, more than 450 people participated at the nine sites over the two weekends, said Jonika Smith with the Jefferson County Department of Health, Watershed Protection Program, which coordinated the cleanup.

Valley Creek meanders some 46 miles, draining 257 square miles of western Jones Valley in Jefferson County before it empties into the Black Warrior River. According to Bham Wiki, the city of Birmingham’s first sewer system, built in the 1880s, flowed into Valley Creek. In subsequent years the creek suffered from industrial pollution.

A sample of the trash and debris hauled from Valley Creek in Saturday’s cleanup. (Michael Sznajderman/Shorelines)

Today, the creek’s biggest challenge is rainwater runoff, which washes oil from roadways, fertilizer from back yards and countless plastic bags, bottles, cans and other household trash into the waterway.

Despite the continuing challenges, water quality has improved in the creek and it is home to a variety of aquatic, bird and plant species. It also draws canoeists and kayakers to many of the creek’s prettiest sections.

Saturday’s cleanup had support from multiple partners, including cities across Jefferson County, Renew Our Rivers, the Storm Water Management Authority, Birmingham Stormwater Program, Bessemer Stormwater Program and the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust.

Students from across Jefferson County participated in the cleanup – part of an increased effort to educate area youth about the creek and the value in protecting it. As part of that effort, a video contest has been launched in connection with the cleanup. It pits area high schools in the creek’s watershed against each other in a friendly, creative competition. The videos are expected to be completed in late April, and will be posted on social media. The most-watched videos could later become part of a public education and awareness campaign about Valley Creek.

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