'Pay special attention': Rescues, park closings amid high water danger on Lake Wylie

Four teens found in Catawba River water rescue

York County officials are asking people to stay off the river after four teens were rescued Wednesday afternoon. The four teens were kayaking on the Catawba River when two were knocked out of their boats.
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York County officials are asking people to stay off the river after four teens were rescued Wednesday afternoon. The four teens were kayaking on the Catawba River when two were knocked out of their boats.

The higher the water, experts say, the higher the need for caution. And the water is pretty high.

Heavy rains earlier in the week are causing facility closings and prompting calls for anyone near public waters to pay attention. And more rainfall is forecast for Thursday.

The city of Rock Hill warned drivers Tuesday through its social media channels to be careful with standing water on roads. The city tweeted Wednesday that River Park would be closed "until further notice due to the high level of the Catawba River and potential impact to park users," then that the kayak launch at Riverwalk would be closed.

A little after 11 a.m. Thursday the city announced River Park trails were accessible, but not the kayak launches there and at Riverwalk.

The Herald reported Wednesday four teens were rescued after two of them were knocked out of their kayaks by fast-moving water on the Catawba.

The Charlotte Observer reported a kayaker was stranded on debris on the Catawba's South Fork, along the northwestern part of Lake Wylie in Belmont, N.C., was rescued by firefighters.

Crews have rescued a man from the Catawba River in Gaston County after he got stuck on a pile of debris Wednesday afternoon.

The York County Office of Emergency Management announced a public access point on Gray Rock Road would be closed in addition to the ones at River Park and Riverwalk. The office noted water flowing from dams resulting in "higher water levels in the Catawba River along with swift moving water."

As of Thursday morning, Lake Wylie sat just a foot below its full pond level, or spillover point. Lake James, the headwaters of the Catawba River, was more than a foot over full pond. The same was true for Lake Rhodhiss and Lookout Shoals Lake. Lake Norman, the largest reservoir in the Catawba chain, was inches from full pond.

The target level for lakes on the Catawba typically is 3 feet below full pond.

Duke Energy, the company managing water levels on the river and its reservoirs, put out public alerts Wednesday on its website calling for caution in and around the water.

"As always," the alert states, "we encourage those living along lakes, streams and other low-lying and flood-prone areas to pay special attention to changing weather conditions and take necessary precautions."

As of Wednesday morning, rainfall totals varied from more than 1 inch to several inches throughout the Charlotte area. A U.S. Geological Survey gauge in Tega Cay showed 2.72 inches of rain the past seven days. One in Fort Mill showed 2.41 inches. One at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport collected 3.43 inches.

Lake Wylie has been at or slightly above its target elevation since Valentine's Day. On Tuesday, is rose more than a foot, then did the same Wednesday to a peak of about half a foot below full pond. Early Thursday, the level had dropped a little.

While having a huge lake so close in times of high water may seem ominous, experts say the opposite is true. Massive capacity at James, Norman and Wylie — the system's three biggest reservoirs — allows Duke to operate the river system as a single unit to avoid flooding. That same approach helps the region in times of drought, too.

Though high water can be a safety concern, it also can have its benefits. Hunt Fish Paddle, an outdoor and fishing gear shop on Charlotte Highway in Lake Wylie near Buster Boyd Access Area, posted on its Facebook page Wednesday that it's "time to go fishin' boys!" Accompanying was a screenshot of lake levels and the hashtag #fishinfrontyards.

Also, there are lasting benefits to the region.

On Wednesday the South Carolina Drought Response Committee announced 15 counties, including York and Chester, saw their drought status improve after "recent rains provided sufficient relief."

York, Chester and Lancaster counties are among all but 13 counties statewide now in "normal" conditions. Those other 13 counties are in the lowest level of drought, "incipient" status.

"Counties such as York down to Fairfield and over to Greenwood demonstrate improved conditions and appear to be out of the drought," said Alan Stuart, senior project manager for Duke.

Domtar Paper technical services manager and drought committee member Athena Strickland said conditions are "looking good" in the area for staying out of drought for a while.

"We have received some much-needed rainfall recently and have an outlook of more to come in the near future," Strickland said.

York, Chester and Lancaster Counties haven't all seen normal drought conditions at the same time since early 2016.

While it wasn't because of rain, there also was a sewage spill in Charlotte on Monday estimated at 15.4 million gallons. That amount is about half the daily flow of Crowders Creek, one of Lake Wylie's main water sources. The spill happened at Long Creek, which eventually flows into Wylie.

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