River makes top 10 list for the wrong reasons

by Josh Carpenter

The Catawba River is in danger.

The Southern Environmental Law Center recently ranked the local river third on its list of the top 10 most endangered places in the southeast.

The law center’s report said the river is in danger primarily as the result of coal-fired power plants, which discharge hazardous ashes that are then deposited in ponds along the river’s banks. The river, which flows through 24 counties in North Carolina and South Carolina, provides drinking water for approximately 1.5 million people.

“We have some of the nation’s high-hazard ash ponds on our river,” Riverkeeper David Merryman said. “Four of them are right here in Charlotte.”

The list also noted hydroelectric dams as a cause of the river’s downturn in recent years.

“There’s an effort in North and South Carolina along the Catawba to build dams and continue what really is a decades-old view of how we should handle our water supply issues,” Merryman said. “Before we spend millions, if not billions, on dams, let’s institute water efficiency and conservation all the time. Instituting water efficiency is much cheaper than large engineered projects like dams and reservoirs.”

In 2008, the Catawba River was listed as the most endangered river in the country by American Rivers and was ranked eighth on the Environmental Law Center’s 2010 top 10 list of endangered places in the South.

“It used to be mostly about water supply management, but that’s not how it is anymore,” Merryman said. “It’s about water quality and these ash ponds on the banks of the Catawba that are discharging these heavy metals into the river.”

While water management is the key, on a larger scale, to returning the Catawba to form, Merryman said individuals in communities along the river’s banks can also help.

“We’re asking people to contact the White House and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and (ask them to) make rules that will protect us from these heavy metals and what they’re doing to our river,” Merryman said.  “If we all do our little part, we have a much more profound impact for the river and for our communities.”

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