Lancaster, other counties working to make Catawba a scenic waterway

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By Jenny Hartley

Lancaster County residents who fish, canoe, birdwatch or otherwise enjoy the Catawba River probably already find the waterway scenic.

County Council recently voted to begin the process of making that scenic designation official. The resolution council approved allows the Catawba Regional Council of Governments to apply to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources to become a S.C. Scenic River. The application will be made on behalf of Chester, York and Lancaster counties.

Becoming a scenic river creates a group of river advocates and a partnership with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. The purpose of the program is to conserve and protect unique and outstanding river resources, as defined by the S.C. Scenic Rivers Act of 1989.

Local conservationist Lindsay Pettus, president of the Katawba Valley Land Trust, said the Catawba River is important to Lancaster County in many ways. He's pleased to see that the scenic river program is moving forward here.

"We have a tremendous asset in the river," Pettus said. "We need to protect it the best we can."

Pettus said the Katawba Valley Land Trust and Nation Ford Land Trust worked together to get the program moving, and requested that DNR get started with the process. One of the first steps was to get County Council involved.

"It's a voluntary, cooperative effort," Pettus said. "The river does so many things for us. It's even more pertinent now with the drought situation."

The S.C. Scenic River program is a cooperative, voluntary management program involving landowners, community interests and SCDNR, according to a program overview from DNR. No regulations are imposed on property owners, and no one is obligated to participate.

A scenic rivers eligibility study will be conducted by DNR to see if the Catawba merits state scenic status. The study looks at land-use conditions, scenic characteristics, streamflow and water quality, as well as recreational, geological, botanical, fish and wildlife, historic and cultural values.

Landowners on the river and the public will be notified, and public meetings will be conducted during the process.

After scenic river status is awarded by the state Legislature, an advisory council is formed.

Property owners in the designated area would become part of the advisory council, along with DNR and other interested government officials. The advisory council would have no authority, but would make river management recommendations to the governing councils in the area, and work on a vision plan.

The Catawba River basin originates in North Carolina. In South Carolina, it encompasses 2,323 square miles and 21 watersheds, with 1.5 million acres of mostly forest land.

The state has nine scenic rivers already designated, including Lynches River, which forms some of Lancaster County's eastern boundary, the Broad River, Little Pee Dee River, Lower Saluda River, Middle Saluda River, Ashley River, Black River, Great Pee Dee River and Little Pee Dee River in Dillon County.

Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said while the program won't create any legislative protection for the Catawba, it will raise awareness of the importance of the river to the tri-county area and increase river tourism.

"And hopefully these folks will take steps to protect it themselves," Willis said.

Stephen Guilfoyle, editor of The News & Reporter in Chester, contributed to this report

Contact Jenny Hartley

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