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50 Things You Can Do To Protect the Catawba River

50 Things You Can Do To Protect the Catawba River

Individuals can make a difference. Listed below are some of the things that each of us can do to protect our water.

There are plenty of things we can do to help our local waters, and many of them are inexpensive, fun or educational.

1. Get involved. Join a local watershed group, sign a petition, attend a meeting, volunteer, donate a boat, and/or donate money.  You can join Catawba Riverkeeper at

Covekeeper collects litter2. Get educated. Read up on water quality issues. Attend one of our Covekeeper or Water Watch classes (check our calendar for dates of upcoming classes).  Frequent the Web sites of environmental advocacy groups and government agencies. Invite an expert speaker to your community meeting.

3.  Conserve water.  The Catawba River has abundant water, but it is finite and we are beginning to have water shortages during low rainfall years.  Overall, we are increasing our use of water at a faster rate than the population is growing.   The good news is that it is relatively easy to conserve water.  Low flow plumbing toliets, shower heads, and other low flow or ultra low flow plumbing fixtures can make a big difference.  Reducing irrigation can have an even bigger impact.

4.  Conserve electricity.  The average American household directly uses 400 gallons of water per day, but approximately 1200 gallons of water per day is used (primarily for cooling powerplants) to generate the electricity for that household.  Thus, you can save water by installing a compact flourescent or LED light bulb, cutting the power to appliances when not in use and other measures to reduce use of electricity.

Rain Garden in front of house5. Slow down storm water water.  Almost anything that you can do to slow down stormwater will help water quality, reduce the flashiness of streams, and improve water quality.  Install a rain barrel to collect water from your downspouts, reducing harmful runoff and saving water. Use the water to irrigate your flowers or vegetables. Or plant a rain garden to soak up water. If you need help, consult a landscape architect or NC State University.

6. Switch to low-phosphorus dishwasher soap. This will be the law of the land in a few years, but you can buy low-phosphorus detergent now in most grocery stores. Less phosphorus in the water means less has to be treated by sewage plants.

7. Pick up a local nature book or a book about clean water issues. Ask a librarian for ideas or check out the "local interest" section of bookstores.

8. Fight global warming. Climate change may hurt our local wildlife and wetlands and wreck our shorelines. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs and turn off unneeded electronics. Figure out your "carbon footprint" at

9. Bend a politician's ear. Make sure they know the environment is important. To learn about the current issues before state lawmakers, call your Riverkeeper at 704-679-9494 and attend Clean Water Lobby Day, where you will join hundreds of other concerned NC citizens and meet with our elected officials to advocate for clean water. (This is a great project for home school groups!)

10. Calculate your nitrogen footprint. Excess nitrogen fuels algae growth which leads to fish kills. Chesapeake Bay Foundation has a neat online calculator that lets you learn how much nitrogen your family produces.

11. Skip the fertilizer. Improper fertilizer use sends nitrogen and phosphorus running into streams and ultimately the river. Residential homeowners are among the greatest sources of nutrients from fertilizer.

12. Plant a tree. They slow down rainwater, prevent runoff and absorb carbon dioxide that causes global warming. They also help keep your home cool in the summer and add to your property value. Visit your local nursery and ask about native trees.

13. Eat locally - maybe as local as your own yard. Food that's grown locally travels less, which means less nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide pollution. Try growing some of your own vegetables, visit your local farm or farmer's market or join a community-supported agriculture cooperative.

14. Eat organically. Organic farmers don't use chemical fertilizers, which can harm the river. They also eschew herbicides and pesticides. Patronize restaurants that serve local, organic food.

15. Share the river with a child. Tell them what the river was like when you were a kid and what promise it holds. Chaperone a field trip, take a kid fishing, set a positive example.

16. Recycle. Although recycling has less of a direct effect on the river, anything that reduces waste and reduces the exploitation of natural resources is good for the environment.

17. Drive a car with low nitrogen emissions. Compare pollution among different models here.

18. Don't wash your car in the driveway. Move it into the grass so that soap, chemicals and excess water soak into the ground rather than going straight into storm drain and the bay. Or take it to a car wash that recycles its water.

19. Landscape with native plants. These plants are accustomed to our climate and require little or no watering, fertilizers or pesticides. Learn more from the North Carolina Native Plant Society or ask for help at your local nursery.

20.  Write a letter to the editor.  Let local leaders know that citizens are concerned about environmental issues.

21. Maintain your septic system.

22. Hold polluters accountable. Reporting a possible environmental violation is the first step to getting it fixed and making polluters pay. Figuring out the right agency can be tricky, but here are some numbers to get you started.

  • Catawba Riverkeeper 704-679-9494
  • National Spill Response Center 800-424-8802
  • SC Spill Response Center 888-481-0125

  • NC Spill Response Center 800-662-7956

  • NC Division of Emergency Management  919-737-1400

  • Sedimentation Pollution (NC)  866-STOP MUD
  • Swat a Litterbug (NC) 877-DOT 4 YOU

23. Be an eco-friendly boater. Don't dump your waste overboard, get it pumped out!  Don't toss fishing line in the water. Use a certified "clean marina" if you can.

24. Encourage your workplace or school to be river friendly. Some ideas: plant trees, install rain gardens or rain barrels, save energy, serve local food at meetings, give employees time off to volunteer.

26. Preserve or restore a riparian buffer (a strip of natural vegetation along stream and river banks that reduce pollution). Retain existing native plants and plant native trees, shrubs and grasses along banks and avoid pesticide or fertilizer application in the buffer.

27. Monitor a stream. The river may not be in your backyard, but everyone lives near a stream.

28.  Encourage your employer to participate in EarthShare.  EarthShare is a workplace giving program for environmental organizations.  Learn more about EarthShare at

29. Fish responsibly. Only keep what you plan to eat. Use barbless/circle hooks during catch-and-release. Properly dispose your fishing line - don't leave it in the water or in places where birds might pick it up and put it into their nests.

30. Don't empty your aquarium into natural bodies of water.

31. Don't dump oil and chemicals down the storm drains. Those drains eventually lead to the river and the water in them does not get treated. Onslow County has regular hazardous waste collections.

32. Go birding. You can learn about ospreys, bald eagles, geese, swans and other birds that depend on the rivers and estuaries. Many parks and environmental centers have beginner birding programs. Or check out the Carolina Bird Club.

33. Fight invasive species on your property. You might have phragmites, kudzu or other nonnative invaders. Learn more from the North Carolina Botanical Gardens.

34. Fix your shoreline. If your bulkhead or riprap is failing, consider a soft, "living shoreline" that softens waves and attracts wildlife. Learn more at the Center for Coastal Resources Management.

35. Put your money where your mouth is. Like the ideas of an environmental group? Send them a check.

36. Tune in to nature TV. "Carolina Outdoor Journal" and “Exploring North Carolina” on North Carolina Public Television explore the state's natural resources.

37. Compost instead of using the garbage disposal. Compost can help your garden and not using the disposal will relieve pressure on sewage treatment plants. Your local master gardeners can help with composting information.

38. Pick up your dog's waste. It's gross, but important. Pet waste contains bacteria and nitrogen that washes into creeks and harms swimmers and promotes algae growth.

39. Support businesses that help the river. Ask about their environmental practices.

40. Speak your mind. Start a blog, write a letter to the editor, speak up at a community meeting, testify at a government hearing.

41. Preserve undeveloped land. Property owners can put a conservation easement on their land that limits development on the parcel forever. There are tax benefits, too. A land trust can help you sort through the details.

42. Teach your kids about clean water.  There are a multitude of web sites for kids that deal with water pollution. EPA has a Coastal North Carolina Activity Book that you can download and print.

43. Look out for litter. Those plastic bags, papers and soda cans can end up in a stream if someone doesn't pick them up.

44. Learn about aquatic weeds and their control.

45. Visit a museum. Discovery Place, The Nature Museum (Charlotte), The York County Cultural Heritage Museum, The Scheile Museum (Gaston County), Stowe Botantical Garden, and the environmental centers at local parks have information about native plants and animals and how you can help.

46. Go on a river cleanup. Catawba Riverkeeper organizes numerous cleanups every year, with most of the cleanup events in September and October.  Check out our calendar for more information.  Even better, don't wait for us to organize a cleanup.  Organize your own cleanup event.

47. Take a trip. There is amazing beauty and history throughout our watershed.  We have information about paddling trips and hiking trips on our website.

48. Visit a park. Several waterfront parks offer beautiful views of our waterways.

49. Spread the word. Share what you know about the water. Encourage others to adopt river-friendly practices.

50. Last but not least: Enjoy the water! Go fishing, paddle down a creek, go for a sail, look for birds, take a stroll on the beach, splurge for a sunset dinner at a waterfront restaurant.


This list was adapted from lists developed by the White Oak New Riverkeeper and Yadkin Riverkeeper

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Help in other ways

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