Coosa River

Coosa River

The Coosa River is one of Alabama's most developed rivers. It begins at the confluence of the Oostanaula and Etowah Rivers in Rome, Georgia. Around 90% of the Coosa River's length is located in Alabama. The river starts in Rome, Georgia and ends just northeast of the Alabama state capital, Montgomery, where it joins the Tallapoosa River to form the Alabama River just south of Wetumpka. Coosa County, Alabama is located on the Coosa River.

There are a total of seven dams between Georgia and the Coosa’s confluence with the Tallapoosa River which impound the Coosa River's natural flow for almost its entire length in Alabama. Hydroelectric power dams have proved very valuable to the citizens of Alabama, but costly to some species endemic to the mainstem of the Coosa River. In Alabama itself, most of the river has been impounded, with Alabama Power, a unit of the Southern Company, maintaining seven power dams on the Coosa River to this day.


Native Americans had been living on the Coosa Valley for millennia before Hernando de Soto and his men became the first Europeans to discover it in 1540. De Soto[Spain] enslaved, raped, and murdered thousands of people from the native tribes, as he demanded their food and natural resources, as they explored the valley (present-day Alabama and Georgia). The Coosa chiefdom was one of the most powerful chiefdoms in the southeast at the time. The natives were not pleased with the manner in which de Soto ravaged their land, forcing the Choctaw chief, Tuscaloosa, to stage an attack on de Soto and his men in Mauvila, in the south of Alabama. Although the battle was won by the Spanish, de Soto soon left the state demoralized and headed westward. However, the toll on the tribes were far greater, with the widespread disease, especially smallpox, left by the Spanish killing off many of Choctaw tribes over a period of decades.

Over a century after the Spanish left the Coosa Valley, the British established heavy trading ties with the tribes around the late 17th century, much to the dismay of France. The French believed that the Coosa River was a key gateway to the entire South and they earnestly wanted to control the valley, since the main transportation of the day was by boat. The convergence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers was the gateway to Mobile Bay, which was where the French docked coming and going from their home countries.

In the 18th century, almost all European and Indian trade in the southeast ceased during the tribal uprisings brought on by the Yamasee War against the Carolinas. After a few years, the Indian trade system was resumed under somewhat reformed policies. The conflict between the French and English over the Coosa Valley, and much of the southeast in general, continued. It wasn't until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, ending the French and Indian War, that France relinquished its holdings east of the Mississippi River.

After the United States won its independence, the Coosa Valley was home to the Creeks and the Cherokee. After the Fort Mims massacre, General Andrew Jackson led American troops, along with Cheroke allies, against the Creeks in the Creek War, which culminated in the Creek defeat at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Afterwards, the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814 forced the cession of a large amount of land from the Creeks, but left them a reserve between the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. Even there the Creeks were edged out by white settlers who had begun moving into the places which were not included in the nation. Finally, during the 1820s and 1830s the Creeks, Cherokee, and virtually all the southeastern Indians were removed to present-day Oklahoma. The Cherokee removal is remembered as the Trail of Tears. The Cherokee capital city of New Echota was located on the headwater tributaries of the Coosa River, in Georgia, until the Cherokee removal. The Creek and Choctaw removals were similar to the Cherokee Trail of Tears. After the removals, the Coosa River valley and the southeast in general was wide open for American settlers. This, in conjunction with new cotton hybrids that could be grown inland, resulted in large-scale migrations known as "Alabama Fever".

The first river town to form in the Coosa Basin was at the foot of the last water falls on the Coosa River, the Devil’s Staircase, with the town name Wetumpka (or "falling stream") adopted shortly thereafter.

The Coosa River played an important role into the early 20th century as a commercial waterway for riverboats along the upper section of the river for 200 miles south of Rome. However, shoals and waterfalls such the Devil's Staircase along the river's lowest 65 miles blocked the upper Coosa's riverboats from access to the Alabama River and the Gulf of Mexico.

The building of the dams on the Coosa--Lay, Mitchell and Jordan--allowed Alabama Power to pioneer new methods of controlling and eliminating Malaria which was a major health issue in rural Alabama in the early 1900s. So successful were their pioneering efforts in this area, that the Medical Division of the League of Nations visited Alabama to study the new methods during the construction of Mitchell Dam.

The Popeye The Sailorman cartoons were inspired by Coosa River riverboat life and characters of the early 1900s in Rome, GA.

Coosa River Impoundments and Sections

The following table describes the seven impoundments on the Coosa River from the south to north built by the Alabama Power Company and well as the tailwater section below Jordan Dam. Harvey H. Jackson III in his book Putting Loafing Streams To Work characterized the importance of the first Coosa River dams as follows:

Prior to 1912 only seventy-two Alabama communities had electricity, but by 1928, when Jordan Dam went into operation, Alabama Power served four hundred twentry-one communities in sixty-one of Alabama's sixty-seven counties. The company also provided power for coal and iron mines, cotton mills, cement plants, quarries, steel plants and rolling mills, foundries, pipe plants and machine shops, ice plants public utilities, and electric furnance installations, industries that put thousands of [Alabama] citizens to work.
Impoundment/Section Description Images
Jordan Dam Tailwater The Jordan Dam Tailwater flows approximate 7.5 miles into Wetumpka, Alabama and is a combination of pools, shoals and rapids. Alabama Power currently has maintains minimum flow releases from Jordan Dam for whitewater boating and aquatic enhancement of the Coosa and Alabama Rivers below the dam. This section of river is home to the infamous Moccasin Gap rapids, a class III whitewater.
Lake Jordan Lake Jordan was impounded December 31, 1928 and named after the maiden name (Jordan) of the mother of Reuben and Sidney Mitchell, who were instrumental in the construction of Mitchell Dam on the Coosa River. The dam is 125 ft high and impounds 6800 acres (28 km²). Lake Jordan has a surface elevation of 252’ MSL and 180 miles of shoreline. The nearest town is Wetumpka, Alabama. It is an Alabama Power lake with an 100,000 Kilowatt generating capacity. Lake Jordan is an excellent recreational lake with fishing opportunities for largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill and other sunfish, crappie, catfish, striped bass, hybrid and white bass. It was the location of the 2004 Bass Masters Classic Tournament. The lake has two public access sites maintained by Alabama Power.
Lake Bouldin Impounded July 27, 1967 and named for Walter Bouldin, Bouldin is part of Lake Jordan and is connected to Lake Jordan and the Coosa River by two man made canals. Bouldin added 225,000 kilowatt generating power to the Lake Jordan system. On February 10, 1975, an earth embankment section of Walter Bouldin Dam was breached, causing total evacuation of the forebay reservoir and rendering the 225-MW power plant inoperable.
Lake Mitchell Lake Mitchell was impounded August 15, 1923 and named for James Mitchell, Alabama Power president from 1912 to 1920. The dam impounds 5850 acres (24 km²) and created a lake with 147 miles of shoreline. The nearest town is Clanton, Alabama. Lake Mitchell is an Alabama Power lake with an 170,000 kilowatt generating capacity. It is an excellent recreational lake with fishing opportunities for largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill and other sunfish, crappie, catfish, walleye, striped bass, hybrid and white bass. Alabama Power maintains three public access sites on the lake.
Lay Lake Lay Lake was impounded in 1914 and named after Captain William Patrick Lay, the first Alabama Power President. The dam impounds 12,000 acres (49 km²) with a shoreline of 289 miles. The nearest town is Columbiana, Alabama. Lay Lake is an Alabama Power lake with 177,000 kilowatt generating capacity. It is an excellent recreational lake with fishing opportunities for largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill and other sunfish, crappie, catfish, striped bass, hybrid and white bass. Alabama Power maintains seven public access sites on the lake. Lay Dam was one of the earliest concrete dams in the US and its construction helped pioneer dam building technology in the early 20th century.
Lake Logan Martin Lake Logan Martin was impounded August 10, 1964 and named after William Logan Martin, Jr. He was a circuit court judge in Montgomery and also served as attorney general for the State of Alabama. The lake covers 15,263 acres (61.8 km²) and has 275 miles of shoreline. The nearest town is Pell City, Alabama. Lake Logan Martin is an Alabama Power lake with an 128,250 Kilowatt annual generating capacity. It is an excellent recreational lake with fishing opportunities for largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill and other sunfish, crappie, catfish, striped bass, hybrid and white bass. Alabama Power maintains three public access sites on the lake.
Lake Neely Henry Lake Neely Henry was impounded June 2, 1966 and named for H. Neely Henry, a senior executive vice-president of Alabama Power Company. The dam impounds 11,200 acres (45.3 km²) with 339 miles of shoreline. The nearest town is Ohatchee, Alabama. Lake Neely Henry is an Alabama Power lake with an 72,900 kilowatt generating capacity. It is an excellent recreational lake with fishing opportunities for largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill and other sunfish, crappie, catfish, striped bass, hybrid and white bass. Alabama Power maintains three public access sites on the lake.
Lake Weiss Lake Weiss was impounded June 5, 1961 and named for F.C. Weiss, a former chief engineer of Alabama Power. The dam impounds a 30,200 acres (122 km²) lake with 447 miles of shoreline. The nearest town is Leesburg, Alabama. Lake Weiss is an Alabama Power lake with an 87,750 kilowatt generating capacity. It is an excellent recreational lake with fishing opportunities for largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill and other sunfish, crappie, catfish, striped bass, hybrid and white bass. Weiss Lake is renown for it excellent crappie fishing and often called the “Crappie Capital of the World”. Alabama Power maintains five Public Access sites on the lake.

Flora and Fauna Biodiversity Highlights

In the Middle Coosa River Watershed, 281 occurrences of rare plant and animal species and natural communities have been documented, including 73 occurrences of 23 species that are federal or state protected. Ten conservation targets were chosen: the riverine system, matrix forest communities (oakhickory- pine forest), gray bat (Myotis grisescens), riparian vegetation, mountain longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) forest communities, red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis), critically imperiled aquatic species (fish, mussels, and snails), southern hognose snake (Heterodon simus), caddisflies, and imperiled plants. Maintaining the biodiversity of the Coosa River system is particularly important because it has already lost a significant portion of its aquatic fauna to extinction.

Category Summary Details (S)=State Status (F)=Federal Status
Aquatic gastropods (snails) 82 species. According to research, 26 of the historically known 82 species of aquatic gastropods living in the Coosa River Basin, are now considered extinct!

Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Species
Amphibians 37 species of amphibians exist in the Coosa River Basin. (9 of the 37 species are considered of "Special Concern" by the Georgia Natural Heritage Program) Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Species

Fish 87 species representing 17 families (13 of the fish species have been listed for protection by Federal or State agencies as endangered, threatened, or rare.) The lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens), a threatened species and once prevalent in the Coosa River system until the 1960s, is being re-introduced by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The Alabama Sturgeon, a former resident of the Coosa River below the fall line was placed on the endangered species list in September 2000 Endangered, Threatened, Rare and Invasive Species
  • Endangered Fish: Blue Shiner (S), Frecklebelly Madtom(S), Freckled Madtom(S), Amber Darter(SF), Conasauga Logperch(SF), Freckled Darter (S), Etowah Darter (F)
  • Threatened Fish: Bluestripe Shiner(S), Holiday (Ellijay) Darter(S), Coldwater Darter(S), Etowah Darter(S), Cherokee Darter(SF), Trispot Darter(S), Goldline Darter(SF), Blue Shiner (F)
  • Rare Fish: Bigeye Chub (S), River Redhorse (S)

Mussels Freshwater Mussels serve as natural filtration systems that help keep the water clean and clear. Georgia has 98 species of mussels laying its claim to the most diverse mussel fauna of the 50 states. Eleven species of these mussels native to the Coosa basin are currently listed or proposed for listing as endangered or threatened. 13 species are now extinct! Alabama has one of the richest and most diverse assemblages of mussels in the world with about 180 species. Approximately two-thirds of North American mussel species have been reported from Alabama. Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Species
Plants The upper Coosa watershed in northeastern Alabama and north Georgia is home to the majority of the remaining clumps of the endangered Green Pitcherplant. Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Species
  • Endangered Plants: Green Pitcherplant (SF)
  • Threatened Plants: Coosa Barbara Buttons (SF), Monkeyface Orchid (S), Little River Water-Plantain (S)
  • Rare Plants: Fraser Loosestrife (S)

Reptiles The southern hognose snake was a candidate species (C2) for listing as either threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). However, the USFWS discontinued the designation of C2 species as candidates for listing (50 CFR 17; 28 February 1996). The southern hognose snake is considered to be a species of concern, but more biological research and field study are needed to resolve its conservation status. Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Species
  • Rare Reptiles: Southern Hognose Snake (S)

Birds and Mammals The Bald Eagle, once an endangered species now has nesting populations on and in the vicinity of Coosa River impoundments The largest concentration of clusters in Alabama of the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, an endangered species, occurs on lands adjacent to Lake Mitchell under the stewardship of Alabama Power. Endangered, Threatened, and Rare Species
  • Endangered Species: Red-cockaded woodpecker (F), Gray Bat (F)
  • Threatened Species: Bald Eagle (F)


The Coosa River's drainage has hundreds of tributaries, which have been divided into sections based on the different areas of the watershed. The first four sections are tributary systems that converge to form the main artery of the Coosa River in Georgia. These main tributary rivers are the Conasauga and Coosawattee Rivers, which together then form the Oostanaula River. The Oostanaula then joins with the Etowah River in Rome, Georgia, forming the Coosa River.

Other significant tributaries of the Coosa are:

  • Amicalola Creek
  • Armuchee Creek
  • Big Wills Creek
  • Cartecay River
  • Cedar Creek
  • Chattooga River
  • Chocolocco Creek
  • Coahulla River
  • Ellijay River
  • Hatchett Creek
  • Heath Creek
  • Little River
  • Mill Creek
  • Mountain Creek
  • Raccoon Creek
  • Rock Creek
  • Spring Creek
  • Sugar Creek
  • Terrapin Creek
  • Weogufka Creek (through Hatchett Creek)

Location Tributaries
Rome, GA to Wiess Dam Cedar Creek, Chattooga River, Spring Creek, Cowan River, Little River, Yellow Creek
Wiess Dam To H.Neely Henry Dam Balplay Creek, Cove Creek, Henley Creek, Canoe Creek, Permita Creek, Green's Creek, Beaver Creek, Ottery Creek, Shoal Creek
H.Neely Henry Dam to Logan Martin Dam Cheaha Creek
Logan Martin Dam to Lay Dam Kelly Creek, Talladega Creek, Tallaseehatchee Creek, Dry Branch, Bulley Creek, Beeswax Creek, Flat Branch, Cedar Creek, Sulphur Creek, Peckerwood Creek, Spring Creek, Blue Springs Creek, Reid Creek, Coaggie Creek, Waxahatchee Creek, Paint Creek
Lay Dam to Mitchell Dam Clay Creek, Walnut Creek, Hatchet Creek, Pennymotley Creek, Weougufka Creek, Cargile Creek, Blue Creek
Mitchell Dam to Jordan Dam Chesnut Creek, Shoals Creek, Weoka Creek, Sofkahatchee Creek
Jordan Dam to Confluence of Tallapoosa River Corn Creek

Major Cities

A number of significant cities lie on the banks of the Coosa River. They include:


The Coosa-Alabama River Improvement Association, founded in 1890 in Gadsden, Alabama to promote navigation on the Coosa River is a leading advocate of the economic, recreational and environmental benefits of the Coosa River system.

The Alabama Rivers Alliance works to unite the citizens of Alabama to protect peoples right to clean, healthy, waters.

Alabama Water Watch is dedicated to volunteer citizen monitoring of water quality in Alabama Rivers.

The Alabama Power Foundation is a non-profit foundation providing grants for watershed, environmental and community projects along the Coosa River and within the state of Alabama

The Coosa River Basin Initiative is a grassroots environmental organization with the mission of informing and empowering citizens so that they may become involved in the process of creating a clean, healthy and economically viable Coosa River Basin.


  • Atkins, Leah Rawl (2006). "Developed for the Service of Alabama" - The Centennial History of the Alabama Power Company 1906-2006. Birmingham, Alabama: Alabama Power Company.
  • Jackson, Harvey H. III (1997). Putting Loafing Streams To Work-The Building of Lay, Mitchell, Martin, and Jordan Dams, 1910-1929. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press.
  • Jackson, Harvey H. III (1995). Rivers of History - Life on the Coosa, Tallapoosa, Cahaba and Alabama. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: The University of Alabama Press.


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