After a yearlong search, the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation has a new leader.
Sam Perkins, hired 13 months ago as the group’s director of technical operations, is now the environmental nonprofit’s fourth Riverkeeper. Rick Gaskins, who served as Riverkeeper during the search, will remain as executive director, a position he’s hld for five years.
“During the past year, Sam has proven himself to be energetic, knowledgeable and willing to work countless hours to help protect the Catawba River,” Gaskins said.
The Charlotte native earned a master’s degree in marine sciences at UNC-Chapel Hill while studying hydrology and geochemistry on the Haw River. He holds two bachelor’s degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill – one from the School of Journalism and Mass Communications and the other from the Institute for the Environment.
“There is a special feeling in coming home and working to protect where I grew up so I can have children of my own who will be able to enjoy the beauty of the basin and its waterways,” he said. “After you go through seven years of college and grad school away from home, you come back with new tools and knowledge, and you see and interact with your hometown in a completely different way.”
Here’s a little more straight talk from the new riverkeeper:
What will be new or different about the riverkeeper role compared to what you’ve been doing?
“I will be taking more of a lead role, especially in representing the organization. We are blessed to still have our executive director, Rick Gaskins, on board to focus on litigation and some of the issues that have been developing over many years, such as the Catawba River Water Supply Project.”
What’s the main issue you see in the next year?
“As we and the state of North Carolina have recently filed lawsuits against Duke Energy, coal ash will remain our primary issue. We will increasingly study Allen Steam Station on Lake Wylie. There are still hundreds of thousands of people downstream who drink and depend on the Catawba River. The recently proposed Riverbend Steam Station settlement on Mountain Island Lake makes no changes to the active pollution. We need a settlement that cleans up the pollution.”
What’s the main issue you see facing the Catawba River during the next two decades?
“Long-term, water quantity remains the greatest issue for the Catawba River. Duke Energy’s modeling predicts during a normal rainfall year, demand will exceed supply by 2048. Part of that modeling includes lowering lakes higher in the basin by as much as 50 feet. Coal and nuclear power plants remain the largest users of water in the basin, so reducing electricity consumption and creating more efficient cooling systems will be pivotal.”
What goals do you have for yourself as riverkeeper?
“My ultimate goal is to connect people to the river. Ignorance of the issues plaguing the river might seem like bliss, but the reality is we have looming and growing threats that need to be dealt with and will be easier to address sooner rather than later. We will always somehow pay the costs of environmental negligence, if not in the cost of compliance and prevention, then in the costs of our medical, water and tax bills. I understand being in the center of cities and towns and not near the lakes/river, there is a disconnect that is easy to develop. Growing up in Charlotte, I played outside and in streams, but that connection between our streams and our drinking water reservoirs is important to establish.”
What is needed from community members and residents along the Catawba River for the foundation to meet its goals?
“Our community and volunteers give the riverkeeper a vital network of eyes and ears. We still need more folks to become aware of the problems facing our river, and then be active in letting regulators and lawmakers know this is an important issue.”