Riverkeeper Program

Bowater DischargeThe primary objective of the CRF is our Catawba Riverkeeper® program, which has grown substantially since its inception in 1998. Our initial work has focused on water quality monitoring, responding to reports of pollution events, & forming a solid corps of trained volunteers.

An indicator of the effectiveness of CRF’s staff & the Catawba Riverkeeper® program has been the amount of public recognition that we have received for our work.  Our Catawba Riverkeeper® was named “Charlotte’s Best Advocate” by Charlotte Magazine (May, 2000), a “1999 Guardian of the Environment” by the Charlotte Observer, & a recipient of Charlotte Coalition’s “Blue Thumb” award in 1998.  It is also the only program to twice receive the “Best of Effort to Improve the Environment” award by Creative Loafing (August, 1999 & 2000).

We effectively meet our goals by using a multi-pronged approach that includes 1) a volunteer network, 2) public education & collaborative efforts, and 3) legal initiatives & enforcement actions. 

Volunteer Network

The Catawba Riverkeeper®  & Keeper volunteers have been successful in holding polluters accountable & protecting the river.  In fact, they are responsible for identifying & reporting water quality law violations in North & South Carolina that have resulted in polluters paying more than $110,000 in fines & $290,000 in mitigation and/or negotiated settlements. We have provided science-based training to a network of more than 150 volunteers in five lakes and contracted with Dr. Peter Phillips of Winthrop University to conduct extensive water quality testing & analysis. 

Lake Hickory Covekeeper GraduationThe increasing incidence of raw sewage contamination of the river is one example of the challenges we face as we work to protect & preserve the Catawba.  Several times in the past, portions of Lake Wylie & Lake Norman were closed due to fecal contamination.  The Catawba Riverkeeper® team plays a vital role in dealing with these difficult situations by working through the media to educate the public, fielding individual calls to our toll-free hotline, and working with regulatory agencies to ensure public safety.  The Catawba Riverkeeper® team is also pro-active, as demonstrated by a tip to our hotline which alerted us to an intentional straight-pipe discharge into Lake Wylie that caused the closure of that section due to the risk to human health. 

The Catawba Riverkeeper®  investigates reports of pollution events through on-site inspections & water quality testing & notifies the appropriate authorities when there are violations of water quality laws.  Our Keeper team follows up with local, state & federal agencies, at times working collaboratively with them to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to mitigate the damage.  When necessary action is not taken, the Catawba Riverkeeper®  & our network of more than 150 volunteer Keepers pressure authorities to act decisively by garnering public support and, if necessary, by taking legal action.  

We also seek to avert pollution by being knowledgeable about what is occurring along the river, including potential threats.  These threats may include monitoring large development sites for buffer zone destruction & increased sedimentation or intervening to prevent irresponsible sewage plant expansion.  On a large scale, we are also dedicated to continually analyzing where water quality initiatives are failing & implementing community efforts to address & correct the problem.

Public Education & Collaborative Efforts

The goal of CRF’s public education program is to inform & unite a bi-state, multi-county community of people committed to preserving & protecting the river.  We demonstrate through experiential programs & by publicizing environmental degradation in mass media forums how land-based activities affect aquatic health & diversity.

One way that CRF promotes water quality public awareness is by being an information resource and clearinghouse.  We have conducted water quality seminars, reaching more than 6,000 people & 250 organizations.  We are also sought after to provide water quality technical expertise & environmental advice to state & county governments, marine commissions, developers, & numerous municipalities & organizations. 

We produce and maintain public awareness forums & materials, such as our website (http://www.catawbariverkeeper.org) and our membership newsletter.  We also initiate and participate in regional environmental initiatives & events that provide educational opportunities for adults, families, students & children to learn and think about water quality issues.

 CRF has established clean water platform alliances with environmental organizations, governmental agencies and citizen groups to jointly address environmental problems affecting the Catawba River.  We have partnered in several collaborative water quality projects, such as one to develop a nutrient control plan in South Carolina & a study to develop a comprehensive strategy to restore degraded streams in York county.

Legal Initiatives & Enforcement

The CRF and the Catawba Riverkeeper® have established the Catawba Riverkeeper® General Council for legal action.  Examples of our legal initiatives include intervening in partnership with SC DHEC & the Friends of Reedy River to legally prevent seven major polluters in South Carolina from substantially weakening pollution control measures.  We have also intervened to prevent weakened North Carolina wetland rules, going up against the North Carolina Homebuilder Association, North Carolina Citizens for Business & Industry, North Carolina Aggregates Association & the North Carolina Farm Bureau.  We also filed suit in an attempt to prevent Mid-South Utilities, a company with a poor environmental record, from operating the largest unmanned sewage treatment plant on Lake Norman. 

CRF has also been effective at persuading local & state governments to establish new riparian buffer zones where none existed & to strengthen existing buffer zones.  We have reviewed & commented on proposed Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permits, wetland remediation & shoreline management plans.  CRF & the Catawba Riverkeeper®  have also been able to generate interest & awareness among public officials & government agencies to increase fines for environmental infractions.


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