CARIA Board of Directors, 1895. William Patrick Lay is seated second from right.

See the timeline of the Coosa-Alabama River navigation system here.

CARIA is a relatively old organization, founded in 1890 by a group of businessmen in Gadsden, Alabama, who sought to establish a navigation channel in the Coosa River to facilitate the transport of goods between Gadsden and Rome, Georgia. Heading the group was William Patrick Lay, a river pilot and the son of a river pilot. Mr. Lay believed developing the river for commercial means would be a great benefit to the people in the Coosa Basin. He was a visionary, seeing the potential of harnessing the rushing waters of the Coosa to produce electricity through generators ensconced in dams at key points. Based on this prospect, in 1906, he founded the company that became the Alabama Power Company, and the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers were changed forever. See the ACT Timeline for a chronology of events shaping the development of the waterways in the Basin.

CARIA worked in the first half of the 20th century to keep the dream of a navigable waterway on the Coosa alive by lobbying Congress to authorize and provide funds for the dams that would make the goal a reality. That effort evolved into the goal of making the entire waterway from Mobile, Alabama to Rome, Georgia navigable. Envisioned was a 9-foot navigation channel via the Mobile River and the Alabama River to Montgomery and then via the Coosa to Gadsden and Rome. The Association’s persistence resulted in Congress authorizing the development of a 9-foot navigation channel from Mobile to Rome in the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1945.

When the Association incorporated in 1955, it became an even more powerful force in pursuing the expanded goal. In the following years, Congress authorized and funded the US Army Corps of Engineers to construct three dams on the Alabama River at Jones Bluff, Millers Ferry, and Claiborne and a 9×200-foot channel, establishing a commercial waterway link between Mobile and Montgomery. The goal of a navigable channel on the Coosa beyond Montgomery has proved to be more elusive.

The last time Congress seriously considered the Coosa River Navigation Project was in the early 1980s. A low benefit-to-cost ratio and competition from other waterway projects shelved the project in 1983. In the intervening years, CARIA has dedicated itself to maintaining the Alabama River navigation channel by advocating the funds necessary to keep channel and dam facilities operational. Much of the last ten years has been spent fending off unwarranted environmental regulations that have the great potential of choking off the economic value of the waterway. See the Issues section for a more detailed review of those efforts.
Also in the last decade, CARIA has expanded its scope of interest beyond navigation to promote the multipurpose uses of waterways and to extend its geographical view to the Tallapoosa River Basin. CARIA members in the Coosa and Tallapoosa Basins are more interested in those activities that directly affect their quality of life, particularly recreation and water flow management. Issues such as the negotiations between Alabama and Georgia on the sharing of water resources or the development of recreation facilities are of major interest.