U.S. Water News Online
LAKE WYLIE, S.C. -- Images of the last severe drought to
hit the northern part of the state remain vivid in the minds of South
Carolina residents along the Catawba River.
In 2002, buzzards feasted on dead fish in dry creek beds. Drinking
water in two towns smelled rotten thanks to blooms of algae. Boat
landings closed because hulls could no longer reach the water, and
businesses that depend on the waterway struggled to stay open.
"It was miserable," said Larry Bunch, general manager of the Lake
Wylie Marina. "We kept watching the water come down and down."
South Carolina residents and officials fear a repeat of that year,
or worse, because of a decision by North Carolina regulators to let
two growing suburbs of Charlotte remove up to 10 million gallons of
water daily from the river.
Worried about population growth, climate change and attracting
business to the area, communities and environmentalists on both sides
of the state line are appealing. North Carolina legislators have
proposed a bill adding restrictions to such water transfers and the
South Carolina attorney general says he is preparing to sue North
For now, Concord and Kannapolis, N.C., are allowed to draw water
from the river and return treated wastewater to a river basin that is
closer to their communities than the Catawba. Returning the water to
its source would be too expensive, said Annette Privette, spokeswoman
for the cities.
She said nothing's being taken now. "There will be a gradual
buildup over time as we need it," Privette said.
The Catawba River, which winds 225 miles through the Carolinas,
provides drinking water to 1.3 million people and electricity to 2.2
million, said Mary Kathryn Green, spokeswoman for Duke Energy, which
owns and operates the river's reservoirs, hydrostations and power
Like many of its customers, Duke Energy opposed an initial
proposal for Concord and Kannapolis to remove up to 38 million
gallons a day from the Catawba. But officials at Duke -- put in an
awkward position since the cities are also customers -- believe the
North Carolina Environmental Management Commission made a good
Others, however, do not.
"If they're pulling it out and not putting it back, that makes a
huge difference," said Rock Hill Mayor Doug Echols, who is among the
South Carolina officials who fear a loss of drinking water and
problems attracting industry to the region if the river runs low.
Kannapolis Mayor Robert Misenheimer said critics' worries are
unfounded. The cities need the extra water to keep up with growth,
said Misenheimer, who also points to a North Carolina study that
found the water transfer's effect will be insignificant because the
cities would take less than 1 percent of the Catawba's total flow.
Catawba Riverkeeper Donna Lisenby said she doesn't trust the North
Carolina study, partly because its projections rely on past weather.
Environmentalists said climate change is important to take into
account because it's already threatening the amount of water
"We're just seeing the tip of the iceberg," said Gerrit Jobsis,
director of Southeast conservation for American Rivers, a national
conservation organization. "With the tremendous amount of growth
we're having, we're getting more pressures on water resources."
Last month, separate appeals of the water transfer were filed by
the Southern Environmental Law Center and a coalition of eight cities
and seven counties along the Catawba.
South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster said he will ask
the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case and wants to force North
Carolina to enter an interstate compact with South Carolina over
water issues. He contends the 1993 North Carolina law creating that
state's approval process for water transfers violates the U.S.
Constitution because one state can't directly affect another state.
Meanwhile, another water transfer plan is in the works. A proposal
from Union County, N.C., to take water out of the Catawba is in the
review stage, according to the North Carolina Division of Water
The transfer plans are not welcome news to paper maker Bowater
Inc., which is located along the Catawba's banks in York County.
The company came close to temporarily laying off some of its 1,000
employees in 2002 because the low water flow meant Bowater couldn't
discharge its wastewater into the river. The company, which needs
water for paper processing, instead channeled the wastewater into
holding basins that neared their 1.5 billion gallon capacity when
rain finally provided relief, said Dale Herendeen, environmental
manager of the plant.
"There's only so much water out there," Herendeen said. "At some
point, it's going to hurt us and hurt others."
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