Risks to Local Water Supplies

The contamination of drinking water supplies in West Virginia and Ohio is causing local water supplies to reassess the vulnerability of our water supplies. Although local water supplies have not had major disruptions in the past, they are vulnerable. “The reality is if whatever went into that lake is water soluble, nobody’s going to be able to do anything about it,” said Rusty Rozzelle, Mecklenburg County’s water-quality manager.

Risks to Local Water Supplies

Charlotte Water Intake on Mtn. Island Lake

By Bruce Henderson

Excerpts from the Charlotte Observer

Plotted in red on a map, the contamination risks to Charlotte’s water supply look as threatening as blood clots on an artery.

But they’re still only potential risks. Records show no local contamination approaching the scale of last month’s chemical leak in West Virginia, which threatened the drinking water of 300,000 people.

Charlotte officials credit prevention, including regular inspections of places that store chemicals, and accident-response planning. A little luck might also have helped.

“The reality is that most cities like us don’t have a completely protected water supply,” said Barry Gullet, director of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities. The department supplies water to 800,000 people.

A state program lists 46 potentially high-risk contamination sources around Charlotte’s main water intake on Mountain Island Lake. An additional 342 surround a secondary intake on Lake Norman.

Power plants, hazardous-waste producers, chemical-storage facilities, underground tanks and wastewater discharges all pose risks if something goes badly wrong.

Charlotte’s water utility works with emergency management and Homeland Security officials to prepare for and respond to accidents. A key strategy would be to curb water use, keeping contaminants from spreading through water pipes.

Surprises still happen, Gullet said.

When a tanker truck overturned in 1997 on a bridge over Long Creek, in northwest Charlotte, most of the 5,500 gallons of gasoline it spilled caught fire.


Businesses that handle large amounts of flammable and toxic chemicals have to file plans detailing what they store and what could happen in an accidental release. The risk-management plans, filed with the Environmental Protection Agency every five years, are intended to help emergency responders.

The 28 Charlotte companies that file plans handled a total of 4.1 million pounds of toxic or flammable chemicals according to their most recent filings, reports RTKNet.org, a nonprofit website that publishes government databases.

North Carolina businesses reported 29 accidents, none in Charlotte, in the five years before the latest update in May 2013, RTKNet.org reports. Those accidents killed one person and hurt 91, caused the evacuations of 455 people and left $17 million in property damage, the site says. 


No gas reached Lake Wylie, which supplies water to downstream communities. But fire-retardant foam sprayed on the creek’s surface sucked oxygen from the water, killing about 1,000 fish.

The outcome might have been worse if the tanker had held chemicals that mix with water instead of one that floats on the surface.

“The reality is if whatever went into that lake is water soluble, nobody’s going to be able to do anything about it,” said Rusty Rozzelle, Mecklenburg County’s water-quality manager.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities itself spilled 2.5 million gallons of raw sewage into a tributary of Mountain Island Lake in 2003. Sewage carries bacteria and pathogens but typically dissipates in a few days.

Duke Energy’s Riverbend power plant stores 2.7 million tons of coal ash, which holds metals that can be toxic in large doses, in open ponds on the shore of Mountain Island Lake. A large spill of ash, Rozzelle said, would be “completely uncontrollable.”



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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
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Fish Advisories

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Fish consumption advisories have been issued throughout the Catawba-Wateree River basin.  Many of these advisories are the result of testing initiated by Catawba Riverkeeper and confirmed by state and local officials.  For a chart identifying fish types with the applicable advisories for the Charlotte area, click here.   For more information about the fish advisories, click here.

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