At the Annual Meeting on September 29, Riverkeeper Brandon Jones reviewed the 2021 State of the River Report.

The purpose of the report is to:

  • provide the public with a consolidated assessment to the River’s health;
  • create a framework for tracking changes over time; and to
  • assimilate data from all relevant sources into a single archive


While geographically comprehensive this report distills only the most recent water quality data into a simplified index. Whenever available, data from Sept 2020-Aug 2021 was included. Long term trends will be the subject of future reports. Due to the variety of users, data available, and hydrologic variability, a basin-specific index was created. The scores cannot be used to compare the Catawba to other river systems. Data inclusion, weightings, and groupings were created solely from the Riverkeeper’s informed opinion. The scores generated are a simplified interpretation of the underlying data and most useful for identifying general threats deserving more attention and resources.        


The 5610 square mile basin was divided into 5 sub-watersheds for analysis; Northern Catawba, South Fork, Central Catawba, Southern Catawba, and Wateree.  Our groupings roughly follow the USGS HUC-10 delineations and subject to change on future reports.

A water quality rubric was created to provide simplified ratings for the sub-watersheds, and specific attributes. We grouped the data sets into 5 characteristics:

  • Monitoring – How well is the water monitored? What is being done with the data?
    • Ex. Sample site number and distribution, data reporting, 303d listings
  • Point-Sources of Pollution – How much pollution is permitted? Are the facilities in compliance?
    • Ex. Active NPDES permits, compliance enforcement, CAFOs
  • Nonpoint Sources of Pollution – What pollutants are mobilized during rain events?
    • Ex. MS4 permits, population, plastics removed, stormwater permits
  • Water Quantity – How are we using the water? Do we have enough? Flooding?
    • Ex. Withdrawals, USGS gages, population, flood buyouts
  • Recreation – Is the water accessible? Is it safe to swim and fish?
    • Ex. Launches, bacterial monitoring, fish consumption advisories

Each of these data groups was then scored using a Likert scale (1 to 5).

  • 5  Excellent – No major challenges, meeting all needs for all user groups
  • 4 Good – At least 1 minor challenge, meeting most needs for most user groups
  • 3  Fair – At least 1 major challenge, not meeting the needs of many user groups
  • 2  Poor – Several challenges, not meeting the needs of most user groups
  • 1   Very Poor – Severe challenges, not meeting the needs of any user groups

Limitations and Revisions

This report is not a fully comprehensive or peer reviewed scientific study and should not be cited as such. Areas that score lower than others are not necessarily more polluted or less safe for swimming. Informed, but subjective decisions were made in the creation and execution of the scoring rubric. Because of the volume and diversity of data assembled for this report, only cursory analysis has been performed. We encourage interested parties to submit additional information. These are our initial findings; the document will be revised as needed.


View or Download the Full Report