About the Catawba-Wateree River
The Catawba River and the Wateree River are essentially one river that begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina and flows through the Charlotte metropolitan area into Lake Wateree in South Carolina. The name of the river changes to the Wateree River in Lake Wateree and eventually joins with the Congaree River in Lake Marion.
The Catawba-Wateree River was originally home to the Catawba Indian Tribe, self-identified “people of the river” and the Wateree Tribe, whose name comes from a Catawban word meaning “to float on the water.” Today the Catawba-Wateree basin is the home of approximately 2 million people.
The Catawba-Wateree River flows for approximately 320 miles from its headwaters in the North Carolina mountains to the confluence with the Congaree River in Lake Marion. The headwaters of the Catawba River extend from the slopes of Grandfather Mountain, near Blowing Rock, to the mountains near Ridgecrest, North Carolina. The basin includes approximately 5000 miles of waterways and it includes portions of 24 counties in two states (North Carolina and South Carolina). It also includes one National Wilderness Area (Linville Gorge), a National Park (Congaree National Park), the Catawba Indian Reservation, and many state and local parks.
Most of the Catawba River is dammed. There are eleven major lakes in the basin and numerous smaller lakes. The 14 major dams and many smaller dams that form these lakes have a major impact on the flow of the river. For more information about the major lakes along the Catawba River, click here.
The largest "free flowing" section of the Catawba River is a 30-mile section of the river below Lake Wylie, which was recently designated as a South Carolina Scenic River. This section of the river includes the largest grove of Spider Lilies in the world (approximately 160 acres - pictured to the right), as well as an historical canal, which allowed boats to travel up the Catawba River from the ocean.
The Catawba River changes names below Great Falls, South Carolina, and becomes the Wateree River in Lake Wateree. The Wateree River meanders for approximately 80 miles to Lake Marion.
Most of the major tributaries of the Catawba River (including the Linville River, the Johns River, Wilson Creek and the Little River are truly free flowing and many of them (including Wilson Creek) have challenging sections of whitewater. One of the major tributaries of the Catawba is the Linville River, which is pictured below as it flows through the Linville Gorge National Wilderness Area. For information about paddling trips on the Catawba and Wateree Rivers, click here. For information about other recreational opportunities, click here.
History of the Basin
The Catawba River has been an important factor in the history of the region from pre-colonial times to the present. Nation Ford (near Rock Hill) was an important river crossing on a major north-south trading path controlled by the Catawba Nation. During the 19th century, the Catawba River was briefly made navigable through the construction of a canal system. During the 20th century, dams along the Catawba-Wateree River provided the energy and water needed for textile mills and other industry, as well as an expanding population in the region. Today, the Catawba-Wateree Basin is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States, and the Catawba-Wateree River is used for power production, industry, agriculture, drinking water and recreation.
- Early History of the Basin
- The Catawba River's role in the American Revolution
- History of Nation Ford
- Robert Davidson - the original Catawba Riverkeeper
- Landsford Canal
- Post-Civil War History of the Basin
Unfortunately, the population growth in the basin has put severe strains on the River. Water quality at many locations in the basin is impaired. Shortages of water are becoming increasingly common due to drought, increasing demands for water, and transfers of water out of the basin. As a result of these problems, in 2008, American Rivers named the Catawba-Wateree River as the most endangered river in the United States and in 2013 the Catawba River was named as the fifth most endangered river in the United States. For more information about issues threatening the Catawba, click on the links below:
- Current Issues
- The Catawba: America's Most Endangered River
- A Cry for the Catawba - 2007 Charlotte Observer series on the Catawba River
- 1995 Citistates Report - Charlotte Observer report in pdf form (large file alert)
- 2008 Citistates Report - The Dangers of Not Going Green - Charlotte Observer report in pdf form
- Videos about the Catawba
Maps of the Catawba-Wateree River Basin
To view maps and satellite photos of the Catawba-Wateree basin, click on one of the following links:
- Map & Information About Water Withdrawals and Discharges - Interactive Google map of the municipal water withdrawals and wastewater discharges along the Catawba River and Wateree River
- Upper Catawba River Basin Map - Interactive Google map with legend
- Lower Catawba-Wateree River Basin Map - Interactive Google map with legend
- Map of Major Lakes in the Basin Showing Elevation Changes - jpg image
- Map of Catawba Basin Showing Sub-Watersheds - jpg image
- Map showing locations of withdrawals and returns - jpg image
- Interactive educational map of the section of the Catawba River from Lake Wylie to Landsford Canal State Park - link to RiverVenture website
The State of North Carolina recently introduced three new mapping tools to check on the status of your local waterway:
- 2012 Integrated Report (Impaired Waters) Map (click here) - This map can be used to not only find the overall integrated report rating for a stream but click through the arrows on the pop-up window (top right) and you will find the rating and information for each parameter that stream was monitored for. The 2014 Integrated Report map will be coming shortly. When looking at the impaired waters map, it is important to remember that actually 100% of the water is impaired in the basin because there are fish advisories for mercury levels in certain species of fish throughout the basin.
- Find a Surface Water Classification Map (click here) - Use this map to click on a stream line to find what surface water classification is assigned to that stream segment.
- Find Your HUC (click here) - Use this map to find the Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) assigned to a particular area. This map includes 8-digit (Subbasins), 10-digit (watersheds), and 12-digit (subwatersheds) HUC levels.
- Additional maps - CRF web page
Click on the subheadings below for additional information about the Catawba-Wateree Basin.
Facts about the River
- Water Quality Facts
- Other Water Facts
- York Tech Catawba River Cooridor Study Results
- 2007 brochure about the Catawba basin prepared by State of North Carolina - brochure in pdf form
- 2008 Mecklenburg County State of the Environment Report - multipage PDF file.
- 2010 Mecklenburg County State of the Environment Report - multipage PDF file.
Information about Specific Geographic Areas
- The major lakes of the Catawba River
- The upper Catawba River basin
- The Globe Valley (located between Grandfather Mountain and Blowing Rock)
- Link to interactive scorecard on pollution in any specific location
Lake Wateree Water Testing Results
The Lake Wateree Covekeepers, in partnership with the University of South Carolina and the Lake Wateree Home Owners Association, has been conducting water quality testing. Links to the test results are included below:
- 2008 Executive Summary of Water Quality Testing - report in pdf form
- Full Report on Water Quality Testing from 1999 through 2008 - report in pdf form
- Folder containing complete collection of water quality testing reports - CRF web page
- Information about Paddling the Catawba and Wateree Rivers
- Hiking in the Catawba Basin
- Other Recreation Opportunities
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP PROTECT THE CATAWBA RIVER AND WATEREE RIVER, CLICK HERE.