June 30, 2008

A River Runs–for Its Life–Through It

By Anonymous

It's not always good to be No. 1. In April, the waterway that courses through the center of the Charlotte region was at the top of America's Most Endangered Rivers, compiled by American Rivers, a Washington, D.C., advocacy group. The Catawba-Wateree faces an "uncertain future," it says, because unwise public policies have focused on siphoning off water to sustain and promote development. "Lawmakers in the Carolinas are among the first to reach this ominous fork in the road, and the direction they choose to take will affect water policy in the Southeast for generations."

The 295-mile-long river rises in the Blue Ridge Mountains east of Asheville, skirts Charlotte and becomes the Wateree in Kershaw County, S.C. It provides drinking water for about 1.3 million people and electricity for around 2 million customers through 13 hydroelectric stations. An ongoing drought, record growth and a decision to divert up to 10 million gallons of water a day to Kannapolis and Concord - which are not in its watershed - have exacerbated environmental groups' concerns. It also has caused a conflict with the Palmetto State, which sued North Carolina for diverting water it believes it has a legal right to. The case is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.

This isn't the first time the river, or at least part of it, has made the list. In 1991, the Catawba was No. 13, after being nominated by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, the Charlotte- based group that nominated it again this year. The Neuse River ranked eighth in 2007, and the New River has placed twice, ninth in 1989 and 10th in 1991. In each case, development was listed as the cause for concern.

However, regional boosters claim the list doesn't take into account recent efforts to curb water usage, including a joint North- South Carolina water-management committee, legislative groups in both states dedicated to studying better water use and conservation methods in the Charlotte metro area. But more concrete actions will need to be taken - and soon - to protect the river from continued population growth, says a spokesman for the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation. "We need the residents of the Catawba basin to understand that we have a finite amount of water," David Merryman says. "The states of North and South Carolina have dragged their feet and stuck their policies in the 1800s when it comes to water- plan implementation."

Copyright Business-North Carolina Jun 2008

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