Looking for new ways to generate the additional electricity needed to meet swelling demand in North Carolina’s Piedmont, Duke Energy harnessed one of the world’s oldest sources of power—falling water. The company built Cowans Ford hydroelectric power plant and dam near Huntersville and created Lake Norman, the state’s largest manmade body of water, in 1963. Today, the 50-year-old Lake Norman is a fantastic local resource, but also one that’s threatened by continued growing pains and its own popularity. To help both celebrate and protect this cherished body of water, the Save Our Lake Organization (SOLO) is hosting a festival to commemorate its 50th anniversary. The event, which is expected to attract thousands to Mooresville’s Queens Landing, will feature music, children’s activities, and plenty of food, along with educational booths set up by nonprofit groups working to preserve the lake. “It’s a wonderful way to bring together all those organizations that are trying to protect the lake and to make sure it’s there for the next 50 years,” says SOLO co-founder Jill Feldmeyer, one of the festival’s organizers. Feldmeyer, whose nonprofit group focuses on keeping Lake Norman clean, says her message to festival-goers is simple: “This lake is not an ashtray. Don’t litter. If you see trash, pick it up.” Tim Gause, Charlotte region director for Duke Energy Carolinas, which will be the festival’s lead corporate sponsor, says he expects the event will foster a greater appreciation for the lake’s heritage and hopefully inspire other celebrations. “Going forward, Duke will be looking at more opportunities during the lake’s anniversary to share its history and the economic benefit it brings to our region.”
Popularity Problems By the time Lake Norman was completed in 1963, it was ringed by 520 miles of shoreline, holding about 3 trillion gallons of water. Today, Lake Norman, which is fed by the Catawba River, is the drinking-water source for more than a million people in Charlotte and surrounding towns. It has also become a symbol of the good life, a place for sunset boat rides and luxurious lakeside living. But many believe it has become too popular for its own good. The rapid development that has crowded the shoreline over the past 50 years has brought threats to both wildlife and water quality. “The development around here is really taxing the river,” says Jill Feldmeyer’s husband, Jim, who is helping his wife run SOLO and organize the festival. The Catawba River’s 11 lakes—including Lake Norman—struggle with environmental problems brought on by rapid development and coal-fired power plants. In April, the nonprofit American Rivers ranked Catawaba 5th on its annual list of the nation’s most-endangered rivers. The ranking was based in part on the large volumes of coal ash that are stored in lagoons along the river’s banks. That ash, from Duke Energy power plants, contains potentially toxic substances such as arsenic and mercury. The strains on Lake Norman will likely intensify in the months and years ahead as an improving economy and housing market attract more newcomers.
Raising Awareness Some who are fighting for the lake see the festival as an opportunity to recruit volunteers and raise awareness about ways that residents can help preserve the region’s most valuable treasure. Catawba Riverkeeper Rick Gaskins plans to come to the festival with a large stormwater model to show children how pollutants on the ground ultimately get washed into the lake. “There’s a lot of pressure on the lake and we’re seeing symptoms of that,” Gaskins says. “It’s important for people to have an awareness of the lake and what they need to do to protect it.” Representatives of the Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists will also be there to let festival-goers know how they can make the lake more hospitable to the many birds, fish and amphibians that call it home. “Anyone who attends this event will leave with an understanding of how they can help keep Lake Norman beautiful and thriving for years to come,” says Billy Wilson of the conservation group. “It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the spectacular event that brought water, electricity, recreation, jobs, and wildlife to the Catawba River area.”
Want to go? Lake Norman’s 50 Years Festival Saturday, June 22 from 2-11 p.m. Queen’s Landing, 1459 River Hwy., Mooresville For sponsorship opportunities contact Save Our Lake Organization (SOLO) 704-458-1163 or 704-724-2852 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org – 11 p.m. Admission is free, but nonprofit groups will accept donations.