Wow! What a year it has been! Like you, we’re looking forward to closing out this year and looking forward to new days in 2021. But before the year ends, we’d be remiss not to celebrate all the good that happened this year, thanks to our members, donors, volunteers, and partners.

To keep it simple, we’re calling out one highlight per month that we want to celebrate with you.

January – Coal Ash Settlement

On the first of the year, we announced that our decade long battle for the cleanup of coal ash on the banks of the Catawba River had come to a close. Duke Energy agreed to move the remaining as on Lake Norman and Lake Wylie to lined landfills. Ash from the banks of Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wateree had already been moved (or was almost all moved). Big thanks to the team at the Southern Environmental Law Center and all of our partner organizations and citizens who made this victory for our waterways possible.

February – 3 Litter Gitters installed on Charlotte streams

Thanks to a partnership with Osprey Initiative, Coca-Cola Consolidated, Envision Charlotte, the City of Charlotte, and Mecklenburg County, three “Litter Gitters” were installed on Charlotte creeks. These trash traps have collected a ton of trash – literally – since February. 79% of the trash collected is plastic. We’re looking forward to adding more Litter Gitters in 2021.

March – 18 new Water Watchers

Catawba Riverkeeper hosted our first-ever entirely virtual Water Watcher training! 18 volunteers learned about our watershed and how to protect it in a virtual class led by Riverkeeper Brandon Jones.

April – 50th Anniversary of Earth Day

April 22, 2020 marked the 50th Anniversary of the first Earth Day! We’ve come a long way since 1970 in protecting our environment. We celebrated all the positive outcomes with our local partners at the virtual Earth Optimism Summit. We capped of this event by announcing our new CLT Future 2020 competition, a Shark Tank-style program for high school students to develop solutions to environmental challenges in the Charlotte region.

May – On the Water with Wayne

As the weather warmed up, we launched a video series called, “On the Water with Wayne” where we featured different paddling access areas throughout the basin. In total, there were 12 episodes, which you can watch here on our YouTube channel.

June – Swim Guide

By June, Swim Guide, the weekly bacteria monitoring program was in full swing. Thanks to our volunteer Boat Captains and funders, we were able to test 53 popular swimming sites each week for E. coli. Results were posted online to give folks the information they needed to make smart decisions about swimming in our lakes. In all, our Swim Guide results were viewed over 10,000 times this summer!

July – Paddling (Thursdays, Kids’ Kayaking, Eco-Tours)

July was spent on the water. The Summer Paddle Series gave adults a chance to get on the water on Thursday evenings while the Kids’ Kayaking program did the same for kids on Fridays. We also hosted Eco-Tours like the Bridgewater Paddle in Morganton. Watching people of all ages fall in love with the River is one of the most rewarding parts of our job.

August – Belmont Kayaking

In August, we got our feet wet with kayak rentals. We partnered with the City of Belmont to provide kayak rentals from Kevin Loftin Riverfront Park. Guests were able to paddle around upper Lake Wylie, many for the first time. The program was powered by OrthoCarolina and will be back in 2021.

September – State of the River Report

At our Annual Meeting on September 17, Riverkeeper Brandon Jones presented an overview of the 2020 “State of the River” report. The report provides the public with a consolidated assessment of the River’s health and creates a framework for tracking changes over time. You can read the full report here. For a report summary, click here. You’re also welcome to view the Annual Meeting recording. We were proud to have more than 200 people attend our virtual meeting.

October – Riversweep!

61,588 pounds! That’s how much trash nearly 1,400 volunteers removed from our lakes and streams in a one-day cleanup effort on October 3. Volunteers were spread across 40+ sites throughout the basin. From Lake James to Lake Wateree, we’re proud of all our volunteers who participated in the largest single-day cleanup in the Carolinas (that we know of).

November – Southern Basin Initiative

Thanks to donors and the Arras Foundation, Catawba Riverkeeper has greatly expanded our presence in the Southern Basin (the area below the Lake Wylie Dam to the Wateree River). Earlier in the year we started transforming our 5-acre riverfront property in Fort Lawn, SC (thanks to the Edwards Family) into an Outdoor Classroom. We’ve got a lot more work to do but were excited that Southern Basin Director Haley Tedder officially started holding office hours in the Southern Basin in November. Look out for regular events and programs in the Southern Basin in 2021.

December – Upper Basin Planning Grant

To close out the year, we received an Upper Basin Planning Grant through the NC Land and Water Fund that will allow us to study the challenges of the basin above Lake Norman in depth over the next 15 months and develop a strategic list of projects to work on that will improve the water quality of the headwaters for the next decade. This planning grant is critical to protecting our waterways from Lake James to Lookout Shoals.

TL;DR: We’ve had a productive year and are excited to do even more in 2021. If you like what you saw this year and want to keep the momentum going, you can make a donation here.