Opinion

Keep the river clean

Parts of the Catawba River are among the most densely polluted waters in the state. Only those who live in the Catawba River basin and depend on it as a source of clean water can reverse that disturbing trend.

Officials with the state Department of Health and Environmental Control recently confirmed that of the 127 sites along the river the agency monitors, 78 failed to meet federal standards for supporting recreation or aquatic life between 2000 and 2004. Most sites were contaminated by fecal bacteria, copper, phosphorous and various chemicals.

Members of the state Sierra Club who have been studying the data on water quality in the state's lakes and rivers concluded that the Catawba River basin is one of the three most polluted sources of water in the state. Lake Marion and the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan area are the other two.

Sierra Club officials say many of the streams feeding the Catawba contain fecal coliform bacteria. Bacteria levels in some places are more than six times higher than what is safe for swimming.

Among the worst sites are Crowders Creek near Lake Wylie and Steele Creek in northern York County. Those who do swim in such bacteria-laden waters risk getting cholera, typhoid fever and eye, ear, nose and throat infections.

Some of these problems can be alleviated by governmental intervention and regulation. For example, DHEC must closely monitor the millions of gallons of treated water released into the river daily by municipal water treatment plants.

The state also must ensure that equipment at large sewage treatment plants is adequate to prevent spills. And, to some extent, DHEC can monitor home septic systems when leaks are reported.

Local governments also can create ordinances to reduce runoff from construction sites and limit construction near the state's rivers, lakes and other water sources. The York County Council now is fine-tuning its ordinance requiring green buffer zones around Lake Wylie.

But much of the job of preserving water quality is up to the average citizens who live in the river basin. For example, homeowners are in the best position to maintain their septic tanks and replace them when they leak.

Environmental groups say that one of the biggest sources of contamination is pet waste that either washes directly into the river or enters it by way of ground water. We can reduce the levels of fecal pollution by picking up pet waste.

Trophy lawns also contribute to water pollution. Fertilizers, pesticides and other common garden chemicals -- all often overused by homeowners -- find their way into the water supply, even when homes are far from the river. Rainfall washes the chemicals directly into rivers and streams, and excess chemicals flow into storm drains, eventually ending up in the water supply.

Homeowners can reduce chemical pollution by fertilizing less and using organic compounds to feed lawns and plants. Responsible gardeners and landscapers will seek out greener ways to deal with pests and plant diseases.

For now, most of the Catawba River remains safe to swim in, and Lake Wylie, because of its large volume of water, has low bacterial levels. But if residents of the river basin continue to pollute the creeks and streams flowing into the river, and if inevitable population growth and development continue unabated, water quality could be affected.

The Catawba and Lake Wylie not only are a crucial source of potable water for the area, they also are prime recreational areas. The region can't afford to allow those waters to become too polluted for swimming, fishing, boating and other water sports.

Let's pay attention to the problem now, before it becomes a crisis.

IN SUMMARY

Some creeks and tributaries feeding into the Catawba River are among most polluted in the state..

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