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In the past year, we’ve been reminded more than once what an important resource the Catawba River is – not only to us in Lancaster County, but to residents of many counties in both South Carolina and North Carolina.
First there was the drought that took hold last summer and brought water-use restrictions to communities in both Carolinas that draw water from the Catawba. Then there were the water wars that erupted between North and South Carolina after the cities of Concord and Kannapolis in North Carolina proposed to draw 10 million gallons a day from the river.
And now it’s the American Rivers’ decision to rank the Catawba as the No. 1 most endangered river in the United States.
American Rivers, an advocacy group, released its list in mid-April, putting the 300-mile Catawba-Wateree River ahead of nine others on the group’s top 10 list for 2008. The report summary says the river is being drained away by water mismanagement and explosive population growth. It is also being threatened by predictions of more frequent droughts due to global warming, the report said.
Rivers from Maine to Oregon made the list this year. The organization chooses them from nominations made by environmental and river advocacy groups and bases the selections on the significance of a river as a resource, the level of the threat and pending decisions that could affect it in the next year.
The most-threatened rivers this year are endangered by proposed construction projects, outdated management plans and faulty ideas to pull water from them, the report said.
The American Rivers’ endangered rivers’ list was released as water-use restrictions here and in other communities along the Catawba were being loosened as drought conditions lessened.
But South Carolina’s challenge of the plans by the cities of Concord and Kannapolis to start drawing water from the Catawba has yet to be heard. The U.S. Supreme Court has appointed a special master to help resolve the dispute.
But what about us? What are we supposed to do?
We think we should take the American Rivers’ ranking seriously.
Duke Energy, which plays the principle role in the management of the river, because of its hydroelectric facilities along the river, says extensive studies done on the river as part of its multi-year relicensing project indicate that it’s a healthy river.
We want it to remain that way as population booms in the Charlotte region – one of the fastest-growing areas in the country.
That means Duke Energy must continue to provide thoughtful leadership in how communities all along the river use it.
It means municipalities and water utilities, including our own Lancaster County Water and Sewer District, must also be thoughtful in how we use this resource.
The Lancaster County Water and Sewer District could encourage conservation by changing its billing system, so no minimum fee is charged, even if residents reduce water usage or use no water at all. Builders could encourage it by installing water-efficient faucets, shower heads and toilets in new houses.
We can all help by rethinking how we think about water. Instead of thinking about it as plentiful, plentiful, plentiful, we can start thinking of it as a true resource and make it a habit to conserve it every day when we water our lawns, wash our cars, brush our teeth, bathe, shave, wash clothes and do other housework.
We think many of us, if not most of us, need to develop a new attitude about water. Conservation of it is important all the time, not just in times of drought.