'Renew Our Rivers' to Give Waterways New Life

You expect to see mattresses, bottles and light bulbs at home -- not floating in a lake.

"It's amazing to see what you find in the water," said Jim Beason, commenting about the trash he has removed from Smith Lake. "Every year, it makes me wonder why people do what they do."

That's why Beason, a lake homeowner and a charter member of the Smith Lake Civic Association (SLCA), is so excited -- and full of expectation -- about "Renew Our Rivers."

Alabama Power President and CEO Charles McCrary announced the inception of Renew Our Rivers, an expanded river cleanup program, during a company- sponsored event March 12. About 180 members of homeowner and boat owner (HOBO) groups, as well as representatives from numerous environmental and civic organizations, attended the celebration of their cleanup efforts.

"Even I was surprised that we removed about 76 tons of trash during our spring cleanup last year," Beason commented.

During the past three years, what was originally called the "Renew the Coosa" cleanup mushroomed into a statewide campaign in which thousands of volunteers, assisted by Alabama Power employees, removed more than 242 tons of trash from the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Black Warrior rivers. Hence, the name change to "Renew Our Rivers."

"The name Renew Our Rivers is indicative of what we, as a community, need to do to carry this cleanup program statewide and across the Southeast," McCrary said. "The focus needs to be on communities, homeowners, cities, municipalities and on the volunteers who make this work possible."

Alabama Power employee Gene Phifer spearheaded Renew the Coosa three years ago, when he found heavy debris around discharge points in the waters around the company's Plant Gadsden on Neely Henry Lake.

That was the start of Phifer's dream of cleaning up Neely Henry Lake and helping protect the Coosa River. The nearly dozen cleanup on lakes and rivers in 2002 drew thousands of volunteers and a national award from Keep America Beautiful.

Sue Smith, director of education and training for Keep America Beautiful, was on hand for the celebration at Plant Gadsden. "At a time when we are hungry for corporate models, we look to Alabama Power and the Southern Company, and say 'thank you' for being among those who said you'd take the responsibility and for being a model for this country," Smith said. "This award is the result of citizens, organizations and government coming together to do the work, for action and protection of this beautiful place that is Alabama."

McCrary noted that Renew Our Rivers has already become a two-state program, with a cleanup now taking place on the upper Coosa River in Georgia. "We'll never forget the roots of this program's start on Neely Henry Lake," McCrary said. "But, this fall, we saw this cleanup move up into Georgia, as employees at Georgia Power's Plant Hammond worked to remove more than 4 tons of trash from the Coosa River in Rome. We want to see the cleanup continue on into other states."

McCrary also announced that the Alabama Power Foundation will give 10 environmental education grants of $1,000 each to schools around Alabama Power's lakes. Local HOBO groups will help the Foundation distribute the grants.

SLCA member Charles Boyd said, "These scholarships are going to be great and will add a lot of emphasis in getting people to understand why we are doing these cleanups."

Lake Jordan HOBO member Joe Young said one idea for the grant in his area is to use it to educate lake visitors about the importance of protecting the waterway.

Incoming Lake Jordan HOBO Association President Dave White added that the cleanups go a long way toward changing people's views about Alabama's precious lakes and rivers. "We've got to change people's attitudes about using our lakes and rivers as a repository," White said. "Until you change those attitudes, nothing will change."

Helping communities carry out Phifer's vision for cleaner waterways will continue to be an Alabama Power activity, McCrary said. "It takes all of us working together to make this world a better place."

SOURCE: Alabama Power Company

CONTACT: Michael Sznajderman of Alabama Power, +1-205-257-4155, or