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The course of the Alabama is very meandering. Its width varies from 50 to 200 yards (46 to 180 m), and its depth from 3 to 40 feet (1 to 12 m). Its length as measured by the United States Geological Survey is 318.5 miles (512.6 km),and by steamboat measurement, 420 miles (680 km).
The river crosses the richest agricultural and timber districts of the state. Railways connect it with the mineral regions of north-central Alabama.
The Alabama River at Montgomery in 2004
After the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, the principal tributary of the Alabama is the Cahaba River, which is about 194 miles (312 km) long and joins the Alabama River about 10 miles (16 km) below Selma. The Alabama River's main tributary, the Coosa River, crosses the mineral region of Alabama and is navigable for light-draft boats from Rome, Georgia, to about 117 miles (188 km) above Wetumpka (about 102 miles (164 km) below Rome and 26 miles (42 km) below Greensport), and from Wetumpka to its junction with the Tallapoosa. The channel of the river has been considerably improved by the federal government.
The navigation of the Tallapoosa River –- which has its source in Paulding County, Georgia, and is about 265 miles (426 km) long -– is prevented by shoals and a 60-foot (18 m) fall atTallassee, a few miles north of its junction with the Coosa. The Alabama is navigable throughout the year.
The river played an important role in the growth of the economy in the region during the 19th century as a source of transportation of goods. The river is still used for transportation of farming produce; however, it is not as important as it once was due to the construction of roads and railways.
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