Upper Catawba Basin Program
The Catawba River, with tributaries including the Johns River, the Linville River and Wilson Creek, was named “America’s Most Endangered River” in 2008 by the conservation group American Rivers. The upper Catawba River basin (the portion of the basin above Lake Norman) faces many challenges including steep slope development, logging activities, plant nurseries, the highest density of septic tank systems in North Carolina, and agricultural run-off. The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation recently hired an advocate to assist the Catawba Riverkeeper in focusing on the issues in the upper Catawba basin, including the headwaters of the Catawba River.
UPPER CATAWBA BASIN PROGRAM
The Catawba River basin is the most densely populated and fastest growing river basin in North Carolina. Its lakes, rivers and streams are under enormous pressure from growth and development, inadequate environmental regulations and poor enforcement. The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation (CRF) is dedicated to addressing these issues.
The Catawba River Basin
The 300-mile Catawba River basin begins on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, flows through the North Carolina Piedmont and Charlotte metropolitan area, and into Lake Wateree in South Carolina. The Catawba-Wateree River basin includes approximately 5,000 miles of waterways and provides drinking water and recreation to roughly two million people in 24 counties, 22 municipalities and two states.
The main stem of the Catawba River is regulated by a series of eleven hydropower reservoirs. The largest reservoirs are Lake James, Lake Rhodhiss, Lake Hickory, Lookout Shoals Lake, Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake, Lake Wylie, and Lake Wateree. The chain-like configuration of these lakes presents special challenges to water quality management. Dams significantly slow the flow of water, increasing nutrient availability and giving algae more time to grow.
The Upper Catawba Basin
The upper Catawba basin includes the portions of the Catawba River and its tributaries above Lookout Shoals Dam near Statesville, N.C., including the first four lakes listed above (James, Rhodhiss, Hickory and Lookout Shoals). It extends to the source of the Catawba River near Old Fort, to the headwaters of the Linville River and Wilson Creek on Grandfather Mountain, to those of the Johns River near Blowing Rock, and includes the cities of Hickory, Lenoir, Linville, Marion and Morganton.
Millions of visitors each year seek out the natural splendor of the upper Catawba River basin, including Grandfather Mountain State Park, Blowing Rock, and sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest. The Linville River, one of only four state-designated Natural and Scenic Rivers in North Carolina, flows over spectacular Linville Falls and through the Linville Gorge Wilderness Area. Wilson Creek is one of only four National Wild and Scenic Rivers in North Carolina and a favorite destination for hikers, anglers and whitewater enthusiasts.
Tourism and development are critical to the upper Catawba basin economy, yet they place extraordinary pressure on water resources. The upper Catawba basin faces many of the same environmental challenges as the lower Catawba basin, including sedimentation and stormwater runoff from residential and commercial development. Other impacts to the upper Catawba basin may be more acute than in the lower basin, including mining, logging, and ornamental shrub and tree nurseries. Appropriate responses may differ in the upper Catawba basin due to its distinctive geology and topography, population density and economic factors. Environmental regulations in the upper Catawba basin can vary significantly from those of the lower basin.
CRF’s Upper Catawba Program works with local residents to identify and prioritize critical water issues facing the upper basin, including:
- Strengthening sedimentation and stormwater regulations and enforcement;
- Advocating for reclassification of certain streams, rivers and lakes to improve buffer regulations and to protect the best uses of these waters;
- Reducing pollutants such as acid rain and mercury from coal-fired power plants;
- Advocating during relicensing of Catawba River dams for preservation of natural areas, restoration of migratory fish species, and appropriate water level management;
- Improving water quality regulations and enforcement applicable to logging and agricultural activities;
- Reducing pollution from fertilizers and pesticides, especially from large nurseries;
- Minimizing the detrimental effects of inter-basin water transfers;
- Opposing mining activities that adversely affect water quality;
- Addressing sewage issues, including septic tanks, package treatment plants and municipal sewage treatment plants;
- Addressing water quantity issues, including drought planning and legislation;
- Protecting marine habitat damage from low lake levels during drought;
- Minimizing siltation of upper Catawba basin waters from runoff from unpaved roads, increased impervious surfaces, slope development, and logging;
- Reducing negative impacts from commercial activity in flood plains;
- Reducing wave-based erosion of unstabilized waterfront around lake shores;
- Reducing industrial point sources of pollutants;
- Implementing regular water sampling programs at strategic locations.
- For more information about the Upper Catawba Basin program or to help support the Upper Catawba Basin program, please contact Sam Perkins (firstname.lastname@example.org).
- For more information about the Lakes in the upper Catawba River basin, click here.
- For more information about the headwaters in the upper Catawba River basin, click here.
FOR INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP PROTECT THE CATAWBA RIVER AND WATEREE RIVER, CLICK HERE.