Energy-Water Collision

The Catawba River is one of the most intensely utilized rivers in the United States for energy production. This use has a number of different impacts on the River including use of a large amount of water, discharges from coal ash ponds, and other wastewater discharges.

Water Use by Powerplants

How We Use Water in the Catawba BasinPowerplants are the largest single user of water on the Catawba River, accounting for approximately 48% of water use in the basin.  These large withdrawals of water, combined with the discharge of warm water, place heavy stresses on the River and it is projected that by 2040 there will not be enough water in the River to meet all of the water demands.  Most individuals do not realize that more water is used to generate power for their home than is Water use by average family of four.directly used in the household.  Water efficiency and good water management are the best source of affordable water and must be the backbone of water supply planning.   For more information, click on one of the links below:

Coal-Fired Powerplants: Coal Ash & Mercury

Coal-fired powerplants present a threat to the waters of Catawba-Wateree basin through multiple routes including coal ash, mercury contamination from air emissions that precipitate into the water, and evaporation as a result of use as cooling water.  Burning fossil fuels also threatens the basin by contributing to global warming.

Coal Ash - According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 4 of the top 44 highest hazard coal ash ponds in the United States are located on the Riverbend Ash Pond by Nancy PierceCatawba River.  Two of EPA's High Hazard Coal Ash Impoundments are located on Mountain Island Lake upstream from the primary water intakes for the Charlotte, Gastonia, Mt. Holly and Belmont.  According to 2005 U.S. Dept. of Energy numbers, over 200,000 tons of Coal Ash Waste is stored adjoining the Catawba River in Gaston County and 33,500 tons of coal waste is stored adjoining the Catawba River in Catawba County. 

Mercury - The North Carolina Dept of Health and Human Services recently estimated that “at least 13,677 children per year” are born in North Carolina with blood mercury levels that place them at risk for lifelong learning disabilities, fine motor and attention deficits, and lowered IQ.  Mercury levels in fish have already resulted in statewide fish advisories in North Carolina and South Carolina. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the Carolinas.  In addition, mining for coal has buried or polluted 1,200 miles of pristine headwater streams in the Appalachians.

Nuclear Power

Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie by J Wes Bobbitt There are two nuclear stations (with two units per station) on the banks of the Catawba River - Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie and McGuire Nuclear Station on Lake Norman. Both of these facilities are located on drinking water reservoirs within 20 miles of downtown Charlotte.  These units are the largest water users on the River and if there was a serious accident, they have the potential to have a tremendous impact on both the River and surrounding population.

Relicensing of Duke Hydro Project

Lake Wylie Dam after 1916 FloodThe Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is in the process of determining whether and under what conditions to issue a new license to operate the dams on the Catawba River. It is likely that the duration of the license will be for 50 years so it is essential that the license include provisions adequate to address the threats to the Catawba River over the next fifty years. The Catawba Riverkeeper is actively involved in commenting on the proposed license.

Additional Information

Additional information about various issues relating to the Catawba River and Wateree River is available in our newsletters, which are available online by clicking here.  You can also get our electronic newletter by becoming a member and providing us with your email address.


More Information

Facts about the River





Document Actions
Help Catawba Riverkeeper

Your River needs you as much as you need the River

Support Our River

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.

Clean Air / Clean Water Alliance Logo

NC Conservation Network Logo


EarthShare of North Carolina Logo


4-H Clover leaf logo


River Network Logo


SC 4H Science on the Move logo



Fish Advisories

fish consumption chart crop

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.

715 N. Church St., Suite 120 . Charlotte, NC 28202 . Phone: 704.679.9494 . Fax: 704.679.9559