History of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation

Catawba RIVERKEEPER® History and Mission

Spider Lillies


We educate and advocate to protect the Catawba-Wateree River Basin's lakes, rivers and streams for everyone who depends on and enjoys them.


The concept of the Riverkeeper is based on the ancient democratic understanding that water and waterways belong to all the people.  In England, some 200 years ago, fishermen fought for the use of their rivers.  In the USA, Hudson River fishermen gathered forces in the 1970’s to combat polluters of their beloved river.  In 1972, they formed the first Riverkeeper program.  Shortly afterward, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. became their legal counsel and in 1998, President of the international Waterkeeper® Alliance, Inc.  Since then, more than 175 Keepers of rivers, bays and sounds have become licensed members of the Waterkeeper Alliance around the world.

Belmont Railroad Bridge by Byron Baldwin

History of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation

In 1992, the Centralina Council of Governments (COG), a regional planning agency in Charlotte, NC, partnered with counties and businesses to develop the Catawba River Corridor Study.  This study brought together the counties of Union, Mecklenburg, Gaston and Lincoln, NC and York, SC, as well as Duke Energy, Jentzen Corporation and approximately 100 citizens from the various counties along the Catawba to identify potential threats and solutions for the Catawba River.  The study was a comprehensive overview of the river corridor from Lake Norman to Lake Wylie including extensive analysis on land use, demographics, water quality, plant and animal life, recreational facilities and public utilities.  In 1995, the study was complete, and the task forces established to evaluate the Catawba River’s water quality, land use and resource development, and community cooperative planning mechanisms, made eight recommendations which were adopted by the steering committee.

The committee’s FIRST recommendation was to “Establish a River-keeping System on the Catawba River.” Concurrently, the Lake Wylie and Lake Norman Marine Commissions conducted a joint workshop to evaluate the effectiveness of the Neuse Riverkeeper program in eastern NC.  Based on this and other information, the Marine Commissions decided that a Riverkeeper program could greatly benefit the entire Catawba River.

With financial support from both marine commissions, the LWMC formed the Catawba River Foundation (now Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation or CRF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation dedicated to protecting and restoring the Catawba River.   They then made application to the National Alliance of River, Sound and Baykeepers (now named Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc.) to license our own Catawba Riverkeeper.  This license was issued on Sept. 15, 1997.  The territory reserved by the Waterkeeper Alliance for the Catawba Riverkeeper includes the entire Catawba River basin, the Wateree River and its tributaries, as well as a portion of the lower Yadkin River basin.

Rick Gaskins & Donna Lisenby at 2003 Raft-Up on Lake NormanIn January 1998, a year earlier than expected, the CRF Board of Directors hired the first Catawba Riverkeeper.  For over ten years, the focus of this successful Riverkeeper program has been on directly improving water quality through monitoring and conservation advocacy, and on increasing public awareness through education and strong partnerships.

Currently, the CRF has a professional staff, Covekeeper, Covewatcher and Streamwatcher programs along the basin, and a committed group of volunteers and members.

More information about CRF: 



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Jan 25, 2017 NC Riverkeeper Report
From the perspectives of 12 NC Riverkeepers, this report discusses how multiple environmental issues pose challenges in the pursuit of clean, plentiful water. Whether you are in North Carolina or downstream in South Carolina, read this report about the state of environmental enforcement.
Dec 13, 2016 Community Foundation of Gaston County grants $5,000 to CRF for Riverkeeper Program
The Community Foundation will fund Catawba Riverkeeper's work in Gaston County.
Dec 12, 2016 A Successful Launch of our Water Education Program at Great Falls Elementary
Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in partnership with 4-H Clemson Cooperative Extension successfully completed our pilot Education Outreach Program with 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students from Great Falls Elementary.
Sep 27, 2016 Lake Wateree Fall Cleanup a Sweeping Success
86 volunteers collected 5,490 pounds of trash from Lake Wateree
Jun 13, 2016 Dozens of Youth Reached in Water Education Outreach Program Pilot Lessons
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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715 N. Church St., Suite 120 . Charlotte, NC 28202 . Phone: 704.679.9494 . Fax: 704.679.9559