OF SWAMPS AND THE EFFECTS OF THEIR DESTRUCTION
Vernon, Department of
Earth Sciences, Mobile AL, 36688,
Wragg Swamp was drained in the mid 1950’s in order
to make way for new development westward from the city of Mobile in Alabama.
This swamp served as a sponge soaking up all the runoff from higher
elevations to the extreme west of the area.
The destruction of the swamp has been the cause of higher turbidity,
pollution and degradation in local creeks and streams. This research project educates the public
about the significance of the former-swamp and the impact its destruction has
had on our local community.
Keyword: swamp, drainage, development
swamp is a shallow body of water in a low-lying area, which is poorly drained.
They usually have a variety of tree species such as cypress. Swamps act as a sponge because runoff can be
temporarily stored in them. This makes
them a kind of natural flood control agent (Encyclopedia.com, 2001). They carry shallow flows of runoff over a
large area and help to lower flood velocity as the water is received, and then
spread out. Trees, plant roots, and
soils help to absorb some water (Lord, 1993).
The remaining water is slowly released.
This helps reduce sediment loads in receiving creeks and streams. Swamps also help maintain water quality by
removing and retaining nutrients and processing chemical and organic wastes
such as urban pollutants and agricultural chemicals (Mitsch,
about one half of the original 221 million acres of wetlands in the continental
states have been destroyed. Of the
remaining wetlands, an additional 290,000 acres continue to be lost each year. They are continuing to be destroyed at a rate
of about one percent per year of the remaining wetlands, even though there are
federal, states, and regional rules designed to curb wetland loss (Dahl, 1991).
the past, draining swamps was thought to be a good thing. As all southerners know, warm, standing water
means mosquitoes (Schleifstein, 1996). Mosquitoes help carry and spread diseases
such as yellow fever and malaria, major diseases of the early 19th
century. Throughout time the destruction
continued as rising land values and demand for cheap land increased
overall viewpoint of the public has been that swamps are useless land. The fact that swampland is usually cheap land
only helps to encourage developers to drain them and use them for commercial
and residential development. The public
needs to be made aware of the importance of swamps and the results of their
area of study is around the intersection of Interstate 65 and Airport Boulevard in Mobile, Alabama.
This entire area was once known as Wragg Swamp. Figure one is a map of Mobile in 1935, which shows the widest part of
this swamp in detail. Sometime in the
mid-1950’s the swamp was drained in order to make way for the development of
what was then known as Springdale Shopping
Center. Its construction began a slow expansion
westward from the city of Mobile.
Over time the area became more and more urbanized, devastating
surrounding creeks. Mobilians
who were familiar with Dog
River and its tributaries prior to the
drainage of Wragg Swamp can tell you of a time when the water
was clearer, deeper, and with less pollution in the water and along the
I obtained old maps and some pictures at the University of South Alabama
Archives as well as the Mobile Library of Local History
downtown. I also spent many hours going
through old Mobile Press Register newspapers.
I e-mailed the current general manager of Springdale Mall for
information. I reviewed several air photographs
taken in 1960 over the Wragg Swamp area.
Exact records detailing drainage projects and construction practices in
the Mobile area are either not available to the open public or are
not in existence. Some of my information
is based on differences shown on older maps as opposed to more recent
ones. For example, Looking at two maps
of Mobile, one surveyed in 1908 and the other in 1957, it is visible that the
population of Mobile has for some time been split between Wragg
Swamp (shown on both maps as the empty area in the middle) (Fig.
2 and 3). However, by 1957 the surrounding area of Wragg Swamp is getting more and
more populated. The swamp is the only
thing left undeveloped. You can also see
four or five small canals on the 1957 map that are not on the 1908 map. It is unknown when or why this was done, but
based on the fact that Wragg Swamp was largely drained
by 1957, it is possible that the canals were dug in order to help facilitate draining
Sometime in the early 1950’s Mobile began a five million
dollar drainage project. This project
included the construction of Wragg Swamp Canal (better known today
as Montlimar Canal or Creek), the
widening and dredging of Eslava Creek and Bolton
Branch, and the completion of drainage culverts such as the Broad-Beauregard
system in downtown Mobile. Wragg Swamp Canal drained Wragg Swamp by way of Moore Creek
into Dog River (Fig.
4). The dredging of Eslava Creek was designed to provide more adequate drainage
for the “Loop” area of Mobile (Fig.
5) (Mobile 1950-1960).
A short time later, in 1958, construction began on a new shopping area
called Springdale Shopping Center (Rappaport,
2002). A half million cubic yards of
dirt fill was placed on the site. The
dirt was allowed to settle, and a year later construction of the shopping
center began (Fig. 6).
Along with the mall itself, a three thousand car parking lot was paved
that could cover a highway fifteen miles long (Mobile Register, 1959).
Urbanization such as this is known to cause major runoff problems. Because parking lots and armored creeks are
impermeable, runoff gathers speed and goes into newly created storm drains and
sewer systems. By the time it empties
into a stream the large volumes of rapidly flowing runoff cause eroded streambanks, and widening of channels. This results in lower water depths during dry
periods and higher than normal water levels during wet periods (EPA, 1997).
Urbanization also increases the amount of pollution entering
creeks. Sediment from new construction,
oil, grease, and metal from tires of cars, pesticides from crops and gardening,
bacteria from septic tanks and sewer lines, are all examples of urban
pollutants. These pollutants enter storm
drains and end up in creeks. They harm
the fish and other wildlife as well as native vegetation living in and around
the creeks. It also degrades the quality
of drinking water and makes recreational activities unsafe (EPA, 1997).
Draining swamps causes major
problems for local creeks and streams.
The degradation of Mobile area creeks and streams began with the destruction of Wragg Swamp. It is a fact that the area is plagued with
higher turbidity levels and pollution and bacteria problems. I believe the public should be more aware of
the long-term effects of draining and developing a swamp.
Sprawl Endangers Mobile-area Wetlands; The Mobile press Register; Mobile, AL;
3-22-00; Access Date: 4-1-02
Dahl, T.; American
Wetlands Monthly Fact Sheet; 1994
Swamps; Infonautics; 2001; Access Date: 3-7-02
Haskins, J. M.
Jr.; Map of Greater Mobile Alabama; The Powers
Company, Mobile, AL; 1935
Irby, William; Map
of Mobile, Chickasaw, and Prichard; Mobile, AL; 1957
Lord, Linda; Guide
to Florida Environmental Issues and Information; Florida Conservation Foundation; 1993
Mitsch, W.; Wetlands; 2nd
ed.; Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1993
1950-1960 A Decade of Progress, Mobile Library of Local History.
Mobile County Inspection Office; Mobile, AL; 1999; Access Date: 4-1-02
The Mobile Press
Register; Springdale Plaza Open Thursday with 50 Stores Under One Roof;
Mobile, AL; 11-15-1959
The Mobile Press
Register; Keep Wetlands at Home and Stop the Destruction; Mobile, AL;
2-4-00; Access Date: 3-25-02
Rappaport, Paul; Personal E-Mail; Received on 2-18-02
Schleifstein, Mark; Conflicting Interests Squeeze
Marshes; The Pulitzer Prize Winners; 1997; Access
Michael; Mobile: An American River City; Easter Publishing Company; Mobile, AL; 1975
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; A Series of Fact Sheets on NPS Pollution; Washington D.C.; 1997; Access Date: 2-14-02