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Scenic river designation may lead to protections for Catawba

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By Johnathan Ryan

The Catawba River has been recognized as an invaluable natural resource in need of special care with a recent "scenic river" designation from the state.

A 30-mile stretch of a free-flowing part of the river from the Lake Wylie Dam to the S.C. 9 bridge at Fort Lawn has been designated scenic.

The Catawba joins nine other rivers in the state that have received the designation.

State Sen. Greg Gregory, R-District 16, said the designation will afford the river protection against development along its banks.

The designation is

intended to conserve and protect river resources, though it doesn't actually provide any new legal regulation.

"The Catawba is the lifeline for this region," Gregory said. "It provides drinking water, recreation and is the habitat of various wildlife. It's important in many respects."

Gregory and state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-District 15, introduced the legislation to have the river designated scenic.

Gregory said the Katawba Valley Land Trust and similar groups in the area urged the legislation.

"Coming now is better than later" for the Catawba to be designated scenic, as much of the Charlotte-metro area of Lancaster County is on the brink of further development, Gregory said.

Lancaster, Chester and York County officials, as well as the Catawba Council of Governments, supported the designation. Gov. Mark Sanford signed the bill last month.

"The No. 1 benefit is the recognition of the river and its special attributes," said Barry Beasley, director of habitat protection programs for S.C. Department of Natural Resources.

Beasley said a long-term management plan for this stretch of the Catawba will be created by an advisory committee appointed by SCDNR.

The committee will consist of owners of land near the river, elected officials and others with an interest in the river's condition.

It will work with local governments to implement the objectives outlined in the long-term management plan, which could mean new laws to protect the river.

Lindsay Pettus, president of the Katawba Valley Land Trust, said the scenic river designation is a step in the right direction.

"This is a continuation of 15 years of work by the Catawba River Task Force," he said.

Earlier this year, the Catawba River was ranked the most-endangered river in the United States by American Rivers, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

Pettus said that's a warning that steps need to be taken to protect the Catawba.

Contact reporter Johnathan Ryan at jryan@thelancasternews.com at (803) 416-8416