About the Catawba-Wateree River

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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.

Catawba-Wateree River BasinIntroduction

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 Kayaker with Spider LilliesCarolina 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. Linville Gorge 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. 


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:

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:


Additional Information

Click on the subheadings below for additional information about the Catawba-Wateree Basin.Upper Catawba Waterfall

Facts about the River

Information about Specific Geographic Areas

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:



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Jan 13, 2016 1,000 Pounds of Trash Removed from Briar Creek
15 volunteers clean up one of Charlotte’s major urban sub-basins of the Catawba River.
Jan 01, 2016 DEQ Does Not Classify All Coal Ash Sites By Deadline
Allen (Lake Wylie) and Marshall (Lake Norman) will be 'low' or 'intermediate' risk, though DEQ staff had internally recommended a 'high' rating
Dec 14, 2015 Protect the Catawba's Wilderness! Comments Due 12/15
U.S. Forest Service asking for comments as it evaluates Wilderness Study Areas in Upper Basin
Nov 17, 2015 Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation Launches Partnership with South Carolina 4-H and 4-H Science on the Move
New partnership aims to develop robust water education program highlighting the Catawba-Wateree River Basin.
Nov 16, 2015 UNCC Students Collect Over 200 Pounds of Trash
Student volunteers clean-up coves near Riverbend Access on Mountain Island Lake.
More news…
Report Pollution in the Catawba River

Help protect your River! 

Tell your Riverkeeper if you see:

  • Sewage Overflows
  • Failure to control sediment from construction sites
  • Illegal clearing of buffer areas
  • Fish kills 
  • Unpermitted discharges
  • Other issues that concern you

Click here to fill out a pollution report or to report water pollution to Catawba Riverkeeper by phone, call 1-888-679-9494 or 704-679-9494.  In addition, to informing your Riverkeeper, you should also report spills or contamination to federal, state and local environmental officials.

To report South Carolina water pollution call 1-888-481-0125.

To report North Carolina spills or fish kills, call your local regional Department of Environment & Natural Resources office during normal business hours (704-663-1699 for most Catawba basin areas or (828) 296-4500 for Burke, Caldwell, McDowell and other mountain counties) or 800-858-0368 after hours.  (For more information on NC spill reporting, click here)


The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is a proud member of EarthShare North Carolina, the North Carolina Conservation Network, River Network and the Waterkeeper Alliance.  It also in in an alliance with Clean Air Carolina to address issues, such as sprawl, that cause air and water problems.

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421 Minuet Ln Ste 205 . Charlotte, NC 28217-2784 . Phone: 704.679.9494 . Fax: 704.679.9559