LAKE WYLIE -- The worst water quality threats also may be the best friends of people trying to stop them, or at least the best selling points.
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation began two rounds of Muddy Water Watch training earlier this month to larger crowds than expected. The reason?
"The rain always helps when it comes to muddy water, because people can actually see it," said Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman.
Mecklenburg County classes began Jan. 6 with 35 volunteers, including residents from Iredell and Stanley counties, at Central Piedmont Community College. The five-session training allows residents to become the eyes and ears of the organization fighting runoff and other erosion problems.
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"In Mecklenburg County it was standing room only," Merryman said. "We had twice as many people as we thought we would. We were delighted with the turnout."
Gaston County classes started Jan. 8 with more than 20 people despite a scheduling conflict with college football's national championship at Gaston County College East Campus in Belmont.
"We were thrilled with the number of people," said Pam Beck, Muddy Water Watch coordinator and chairwoman of the Mountain Island Lake Marine Commission. "We had to bring in extra chairs."
For years the Riverkeeper Foundation -- founded in 1998 with the mission of guiding water quality policy, regulations, land use and enforcement of the Catawba River -- has trained members through its more extensive Covekeeper program, which began that same year on Lake Wylie. Thanks to the drought that hit in summer 2007, many more people became interested in water issues, Riverkeeper leaders say. On Jan. 9, the drought status in the Carolinas improved to Stage 2.
Once the rain returned, people began seeing muddy water and the foundation launched Water Watcher and Muddy Water Watch programs as a less-extensive approach to bring in more volunteers.
"All of those things have a lot to do with it," said C.D. Collins, Lake Wylie Covekeeper and foundation board member. "We're very, very proud of this whole process. It's being very highly received and going well."
In fact, the group that once struggled to add new members is now bringing in so many people, goals are being re-evaluated. The statewide goal for Muddy Water Watch participants was set at 200, Merryman said.
"We've already blown that number out of the water," he said. "We're hoping in the Charlotte area alone to train at least 200 people by June."
A spring session, perhaps in April, will be held in the Tega Cay/Fort Mill area. The areas surrounding Lake Wylie are traditionally hotbeds for community involvement in water issues, Covekeepers say, so organizers are hoping for big a turnout there.
"They seemed to be enthusiastic," Beck said of response so far. "People can relate to muddy water, seeing it."
Foundation members say if the local water source is threatened at least the programs help raise public interest and participation.
"It proves that there's a multifaceted issue that impacts our water -- whether it's not having water or mud running into the water -- and it shows that no matter what the climactic circumstances, there's always something we can do," Merryman said.
Riverkeeper resident-training program hits annual goal, hosts 'standing-room only' crowd
What is Muddy Water Watch?
Muddy Water Watch is a five-session class teaching residents how to enforce erosion and sedimentation control issues on the Catawba River. The class visits construction sites with sedimentation experts. The local program is part of a statewide initiative to reduce stormwater runoff from construction sites with training workshops and materials developed for volunteers, according to the N.C. Sedimentation Pollution Control Act of 1973. For more information about the program, visit catawbariverkeeper.org. To report a runoff violation, call 704-679-9494.