By John Searby, Executive Director
No one ever asks me to my face – “Why should I care about what Catawba Riverkeeper does?” I assume they are just being polite because when we are out at public events talking to the citizens we serve I do get lot of blank stares. When it happened this weekend, it really got ME thinking…
Why does it matter? Why should ANYONE care about the work of Catawba Riverkeeper?
The truth is that EVERYONE who lives in one of the 26 counties in North or South Carolina that the Catawba River basin encompasses SHOULD care. But why?
Very simply – because your life depends on it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, maybe not even in a few months because water challenges take a long time to manifest themselves and an even longer time to solve.
Our supply of water in the Carolinas is NOT unlimited and while we are getting about the same amount of total rainfall for the year as we have in the past few decades, we are getting it in ever increasing major storm events followed by longer periods of drought. In a system of reservoirs like the Catawba River basin that supply the drinking water for over 2 million people, it is becoming ever more challenging to maintain enough quantity in our river for the public needs. These reservoirs can only hold so much water at a time so when we get huge rainfalls there isn’t any way to “store it for later.” We are stuck sitting by and watching those reservoirs then get lower and lower with every drought we have hoping that there will be enough water to both supply our drinking water and operate our nuclear, coal, and hydro-electric power plants that all rely on the river as well and supply nearly 3 million households with electricity.
In the rapidly growing Charlotte region, our demand and the importance of our water is rapidly growing. The strain on our water supply from both municipal users and private users is greater than ever and so it is more imperative than ever that the water that we do have is free of pollution and safe to use.
Pollution is not just water bottles floating in the lake (our members have cleaned up over 30 tons of trash from the Catawba in 2019!); it is more than bad actors like DuPont knowingly dumping deadly chemicals into the river: and pollution goes beyond high profile contamination of our waterways from things like coal ash (we continue to fight to get coal ash removed from unlined pits on the shores of the Catawba River).
Pollution comes from sedimentation when mud runs off of developments and cleared land and it drags bacteria and dangerous substances from the ground into our water and fills in our reservoirs. Pollution comes from stormwater that rushes down our city creeks after it drags oil, grease, and all manner of nastiness off our parking lots and city streets. Pollution comes from any of the over 175 private businesses that have permits to discharge wastewater into the Catawba River. Pollution even comes from municipalities discharging from their wastewater treatment plants. Many use outdated systems that aren’t equipped to clean the water of all potential contaminants before sending it back into the river.
One person asked me this weekend – “But why do we need a Riverkeeper, doesn’t the state or federal government monitor these things?” The sad but true answer is NO. Over the past decade, staffing for both NC Dept of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and SC Dept of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has been reduced for both monitoring and enforcement across the basin. The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is the only non-profit, non-governmental, non-partisan organization committed to ensuring that all waters in the Catawba Wateree River basin are fit for swimming, fishing, and drinking. So it matters. It matters because while you don’t think about your water every day, someone should. That someone is the full time staff of four at Catawba Riverkeeper, our volunteer board, and our over 2,000 members who support us with their time and treasure. It matters to them and I hope it matters to you.
John Searby, Executive Director of Catawba Riverkeeper