Eight years ago, the Catawba River was listed as the most endangered river in the nation. This year, it was off the list altogether.
That is reason for reassurance, but not an excuse to relax regional vigilance in protecting this vital waterway.
The list of endangered rivers is compiled each year by American Rivers, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that has turned out its lists since 1886. When the Catawba topped the list, many viewed it not just as bad news but also as an opportunity to shine a light on a river whose existence was threatened.
Those threats have not gone away. Now, as then, demand on water supplies is intense because of population growth and development throughout the Catawba’s river basin.
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Now, as then, much of South Carolina and parts of North Carolina are in various stages of drought. And the possibility still exists that North Carolina will try to divert water to cities outside the river’s basin.
But let us also welcome the Catawba’s absence from the endangered list for what it is: good news. Despite continuing growth, the danger of sewage spills, runoff of dangerous chemicals and the drought, the river continues to provide a stable water supply for much of the region.
Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins said more still must be done to update sediment and erosion control measures throughout the river basin. The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is working with developers and public officials to write stronger runoff regulations.
Perkins also would like to see cities served by the Catawba do more to prevent construction runoff. We hope regulators also can minimize clear-cutting of construction sites.
One major step forward was the creation of a regional Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group formed in 2007. The group, which includes water suppliers, distributors and other private and public interests throughout the basin, has representatives from above Hickory, N.C., down to Lake Wateree.
Members monitor drought levels, keep the public informed and offer advice on when water-use restrictions would be appropriate. The work done by this group has been cited as one of the major reasons the Catawba has not returned to the endangered list.
The designation of the Catawba as the most endangered river in the nation served as a clarion call for everyone who depends on water from the river and for every public policy-maker whose decisions affect the river. It was a call to action.
Thankfully, after the fourth straight year of not making the list, it appears that concerned citizens at all level are answering that call.