Picture a relaxing day at the lake. You're floating along, not a care in the world, when out of nowhere, someone dumps a 55-gallon drum of red dirt right on top of you.
Sound unlikely? Not if you're one of the organisms that make their home in the Catawba River. Sedimentation is the number one pollutant of this water, says David Merryman, the Catawba Riverkeeper. When stormwater runoff from construction sites is not properly contained, sediment flows into nearby lakes and rivers.
We've all seen photographs of orange, muddy coves along Lake Norman and other lakes of the Catawba River. The pollution is unsightly, but the bigger problem is the impact this pollution has on the natural habitats there.
Merryman said that increased sediment depletes the oxygen supply for macroinvertebrates, aquatic insects that live in the river. Because fish feed on these insects, sedimentation affects the food chain from the bottom up. “Essentially, we're eliminating the habitat,” says Merryman.
Sedimentation also makes it more difficult – and expensive – to clean the water for household use. And this type of pollution diminishes the lake's storage capacity.
According to the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service, the rate of soil erosion at a construction site, where vegetation and slope of the land are altered, may be 1,000 times greater than that of natural erosion.
While we do rely on government regulations and fines to keep developers from polluting the water, the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation trains individual citizens to spot violations and report them. “Two or three (government) inspectors cannot physically do it,” Merryman said.
The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation is holding Muddy Water Watch volunteer training sessions starting July 9 at the Sherrills Ford Volunteer Fire Station on Slanting Bridge Road. Muddy Water Watch is a statewide initiative to protect North Carolina's fresh water sources by educating citizens on the N.C. Sedimentation Pollution Control Act of 1973 and other laws protecting the state's water supplies.
Participants will learn how to assess construction sites for use of silt fencing and retention ponds, report possible developer violations and identify polluted waterways.
“We want and encourage people … to learn how to best inspect and keep these developers accountable,” said Merryman. With so much proposed new development, he added, the west shore area of Lake Norman is especially vulnerable to pollution.
Merryman wants as many trained volunteers as he can get. As the spokesperson for the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, he feels obligated to educate others about this natural resource.
“I am the voice of the Catawba River,” he says. “The river can't speak for itself.”