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Catawba River One of Top 10 Endangered Places in the South
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Catawba River One of Top 10 Endangered Places in the South

On January 26, 2012, the Southern Environmental Law Center announced its annual list of the Top 10 Endangered Places in the Solutheastern U.S. The Catawba-Wateree River was back on the list as the 3rd most endangered place in the Southeast because of the threats from coal ash, power plant water use and unnecessary reservoirs.

Catawba River One of Top 10 Endangered Places in the South

Photo of Catawba River by Ken Teeter

The Southern Environmental Law Center’s (SELC) 4th annual list of the Top 10 Endangered Places of the Southeast targets areas of exceptional ecological, scenic, or cultural value that are facing immediate, possibly irreversible threats—and the important actions needed in 2012 to protect them. Many of the areas on this year’s list are endangered by pressure to undercut environmental protections and to lower the hurdles for potentially destructive projects, whether it’s fracking in the North Carolina Piedmont, mining uranium in Virginia, or deepwater drilling off the coast of Alabama.

“Under the guise of promoting economic growth, anti-environmental forces are working in Congress, in state legislatures, and in government agencies to gut our most essential safeguards,” said Marie Hawthorne, SELC’s director of development. “But doing away with effective laws and enforcement will accomplish nothing except sacrifice natural treasures like those on our Top 10 list, and other resources that make the South such a great place to live, work, and raise our families. We owe it to ourselves—and to future generations—to make sure this doesn’t happen.

Click here to see SELC’s 4th annual Top 10 Endangered Places of the Southeast.

SELC's description of the threats facing the Catawba-Wateree River appear below:

3. Catawba—Wateree River Basin, North Carolina and South Carolina

What’s at Stake?

A river system that drains 5,000 miles of waterways and provides drinking water and recreation for hundreds of thousands of people.

The Threat

The impacts of electric power generation and unnecessary reservoir projects.

Comprising 5,000 miles of waterways, the Catawba-Wateree river system originates on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge and then winds through the rapidly urbanizing North Carolina Piedmont before entering the lush lowlands of South Carolina. Along its 300-mile route, it provides clean water and recreation for hundreds of thousands of people. Threats endangering the health of this vital resource include:

Pollution from Coal Ash Sites. Coal-fired power plants generate millions of tons of ash, which typically has been dumped into unlined and poorly monitored ponds and landfills. Five of the most hazardous coal ash ponds in the U.S. are on the Catawba-Wateree River and its tributaries, including a site that has discharged arsenic-laden pollution for years. SELC has filed suit to compel South Carolina Electric and Gas to clean it up.

Water Withdrawals by Power Plants. According to a recent study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Catawba River ranks among the 25 watersheds nationwide that suffer from the highest levels of water-supply stress due to the water demands of power plants for steam production and cooling purposes.

Hydroelectric Dams. Over the last century, much of the Catawba-Wateree was impounded to generate electricity, and for decades, power companies have been allowed to operate their dams in ways that disrupt healthy stream flows and fish migration. As Duke Energy applies for a new federal license for a series of five hydroelectric plants in South Carolina, it is seeking to trade land and cash for permission to maintain harmfully low flows in the Catawba-Wateree for the next fifty years. Learn more about SELC’s legal action to protect the river.

Unnecessary Reservoir Projects. Two counties—one in North Carolina and another in South Carolina—have proposed a 92-acre reservoir off the main channel of the Catawba-Wateree that is sure to fuel more sprawl and pollution in the Charlotte metro area. What’s more, water withdrawn from the reservoir would be discharged into another river basin, robbing water from downstream farms and communities that depend on the Catawba-Wateree. If approved, this project would pave the way for other municipalities to build their own new reservoirs before first exhausting less environmentally damaging means to satisfy demand, such as increasing their water systems’ efficiency, encouraging their customers to conserve water, and exploring interconnections to other systems with excess capacity. Such reservoirs often needlessly destroy significant wetlands and wildlife habitat.

 

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News
Apr 21, 2015 BREAKING: Residents Around Duke Coal Ash Sites Told Not to Drink Their Water
Letters sent to Duke Energy's neighbors after DENR's testing reveals contamination of groundwater wells.
Apr 21, 2015 Ask Your NC Legislator to Oppose HB 795
The NC General Assembly is proposing to gut the law (SEPA) that requires consideration of environmental costs and benefits when public money is spent or public land is used. This law has helped us expose wasteful projects that would harm the Catawba River and allowed us time to work out a better solution, including unnecessary inter-basin transfers and wasteful highway projects that would increase sprawl.
Apr 20, 2015 Can Charlotte overcome its love of roads?
The root cause of many of the water quality problems (as well as air quality problems) in our region is bad growth practices - SRAWL. The article below explains some of these issues. CRF has been advocating to encourage smart growth and stop bad growth by working with local governments to develop zoning ordinances that incentivize low-impact development and by working with Clean Air Carolina and Southern Environmental Law Center to challenge projects (such as the proposed Garden Parkway Toll Road) that encourage sprawl.
Apr 20, 2015 Volunteers Clean Up 1,200 Pounds of Trash from Briar Creek
Creek visibly cleaner after 25 volunteers remove shopping carts, tires and dozens of bags of trash.
Apr 17, 2015 Longtime Advocate Reflects On Health Of Catawba River
A longtime voice in the effort to protect and improve the Catawba River basin is stepping down. Rick Gaskins, the executive director of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, leaves in June.
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)

Alliances

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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