The Catawba River, which is named after the Catawba Indian Nation, has been an important factor in the history of the region from pre-colonial times to the present. Nation Ford (near Rock Hill) was an important river crossing on a major north-south trading path controlled by the Catawba Nation. In the 18th century, early explorers such as John Lawson chronicled their journeys throughout the river basin. It was at this time the early footprint for development was laid out and trade began to flourish.

During the 19th century, the Catawba River was briefly made navigable through the construction of a canal system. During the 20th century, dams along the Catawba-Wateree River provided the energy and water needed for textile mills and other industry, as well as an expanding population in the region.

Today, the Catawba-Wateree Basin is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States, and the Catawba-Wateree River is used for power production, industry, agriculture, drinking water and recreation. Duke Energy, one of the world’s largest utility companies, holds the primary responsibility for managing the reservoirs and regulating development on the River.