Auburn’s Deutsch celebrates state’s rivers in new book

Published: June 26, 2018

Jamie Creamer | Auburn College of Agriculture

Bill Deutsch, a retired Auburn University aquatic ecologist who has spent almost three decades exploring, restoring and championing Alabama waterways, has published a book—his first—he hopes will encourage current and future generations to respect and care for the state’s 132,000 miles of rivers, lakes and streams.

His official launch of Alabama Rivers, A Celebration and Challenge came June 23 in Auburn during the 2018 annual meeting of Alabama Water Watch, the community-based water-monitoring and education program that he co-founded in 1992 and directed for 21 years. Today, the program is a national and international model for training citizens to test and protect the water around them.

Deutsch’s 235-page Alabama Rivers, published by Florence, Alabama-based MindBridge Press, features about 100 color images and an engaging, information-packed narrative that chronicles the natural and human history of the state’s vast network of rivers.

“Alabama is a river state, and my goal with the book is to inspire the kind of awareness and appreciation of our abundant water resources that leads to their restoration and protection in ethical, practical, science-based ways,” Deutsch said.

Deutsch is a native New Yorker who came to Auburn in 1985 to pursue his doctorate in aquatic ecology and joined the staff three years later. He retired as a research fellow emeritus in Auburn’s School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Science and as Alabama Water Watch director emeritus in 2013, but, ever the educator, he soon signed on to teach a seven-week “Rivers of Alabama” course to area retirees through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Auburn, better known as OLLI.

The seven-week course was an unexpected hit.

“At the first class, I was expecting to have maybe 10 or 12 folks, but over 50 people showed up,” Deutsch said. “It was unbelievable.

“I’ve taught the course two more times, and we’ve had that many in those classes, too,” he said. “I decided that if that many people were interested in learning about the state’s river systems, I had found an audience for a book.”

Alabama Rivers, A Celebration and Challenge has three parts: “Setting the Stage,” “Celebrating Alabama Rivers” and “A Challenge: Protecting Our Rivers.”

In part one, Deutsch highlights the vital role the state’s waterways have played in Alabama’s history and describes how the rivers formed, flow and serve as home to unparalleled aquatic biodiversity, much of which is unique to the state.

Part two draws heavily from the five-volume “Citizen Guide to Alabama Rivers,” a popular and widely distributed series of booklets that Deutsch and the Alabama Water Watch team produced in the early to mid-2000s. The book includes updated, expanded versions of the guide materials, with separate chapters on the Tennessee River; the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Alabama rivers; the Cahaba and Black Warrior rivers; the Tombigbee and Mobile Delta rivers; and the Coastal Plain and Chattahoochee rivers.

The final part of the book—the challenge—covers how rivers change, how politics influence water policy and how the public can protect rivers.

Cindy Lowry, executive director at the nonprofit Alabama Rivers Alliance, is among those praising the book.

“Bill’s enlightening celebration of Alabama rivers also includes an honest look at the challenges they face and a call to take responsibility for ensuring that the state’s river story continues to be written by future generations,” Lowry said. “This is a must-read for anyone in a position to make decisions about the future of Alabama.”

In an effort to offer the book at an affordable price, Deutsch secured sponsorships and donations from several individuals as well as state and regional water-related organizations to support publishing costs. Alabama Rivers can be purchased for $27 at alabamariversbook.org.

Though retired, Deutsch continues working part time at Auburn as a visiting researcher with the Water Resources Center. That center is under the umbrella of the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station.