Demands placed on the Catawba River and its lakes for power and water continually increase with a burgeoning population and ensuing development.
Various organizations have been created to monitor and mitigate the potential damage to the 300-mile-long Catawba-Wateree River, as well as its man-made lakes. One of the groups, the Lake Norman Covekeepers, a part of the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, is committed to preserving the quality of the coves on Lake Norman.
Created in 1999 after a year of training by the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, its mission, according to its Web site, is "To support the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation by actively monitoring, protecting and enhancing the environment of Lake Norman and its watershed for future generations."
The river basin, which extends from the slopes of Grandfather Mountain near Blowing Rock to the mountains near Ridgecrest, includes 5,000 miles of waterways in North and South Carolina.
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American Rivers in 2008 designated the Catawba as "the most endangered river in the United States." To clarify the designation, they added that "The Catawba is currently the most polluted river in the United States, but rather the river that is most threatened by current trends of development and poor water management." Development along the river and its lakes, the organization said, creates "more sediment runoff, more stormwater runoff and more sewage."
Organization spokesperson Gerritt Jobsis, Southeast regional director of American Rivers, said, "This isn't a message of doom and gloom, but rather an opportunity for all of us to look in the mirror and make a substantive and sustainable change in our lives."
Taking advantage of that opportunity is one objective of the Covekeepers. In addition to the Lake Norman group, Covekeeper programs have been created for Lake Hickory, Mountain Island Lake, Lake Wylie and Lake Wateree.
Active volunteers commit to a minimum of 10 hours per month, resulting in 1,000 hours a month spent patrolling the many coves along 33-mile long Lake Norman, with520 miles of shoreline. Members also manage an Island Keeper program that has removed trash from Lake Norman's 42 islands since 2002.
Other programs organized by Covekeepers include Covewatchers, Streamwatchers, Waterwatchers and Muddy Waters Watch. They sponsor a youth kayaking program and lead periodic family paddling trips as well.
The Muddy Waters Watch Program trains residents around the lake to monitor construction sites and prevent sedimentation and erosion. They help to pick up trash and debris, including 4,600 pounds in the 2009 Big Sweep/River Sweep program.
Included as well in their accomplishments for 2009 is supporting the purchase by Lincoln County of 116 undeveloped acres near the county water intake in Little Creek Cove.
According to the Covekeeper website (catawbariverkeeper.org), "Volunteers beginning our intensive training session expect that our waters are clean and that government action will deter polluters. At the end of our year-long program, they have the scientific knowledge to identify pollution events, as well as the political and legal wisdom to put their work into a larger context."