Catawba River

Catawba River


The Catawba River is a tributary of the Wateree River in the U.S. states of North Carolina and South Carolina. The river is approximately 220 miles (350 km) long. It rises in the Appalachian Mountains and drains into Piedmont, and is impounded through series of reservoirs for flood control and hydroelectricity. The river is named after the Catawba tribe of Native Americans. They were known in their own language as the Kawahcatawbas, "the people of the river".

It rises in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western McDowell County, North Carolina, approximately 20 miles (30 km) east of Asheville. It flows ENE, forming, along with the Linville River, Lake James. It then passes north of Morganton, then southeast through the Lake Norman reservoir. From Lake Norman it flows south, passing west of Charlotte, then flowing through the Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie reservoirs, where it forms approximately 10 miles (15 km) of the border between North Carolina and South Carolina. It flows into northern South Carolina, passing east of Rock Hill, then through Fishing Creek Reservoir near Great Falls, and then into the Lake Wateree reservoir, approximately 30 miles (50 km) northeast of Columbia. At the now-submerged confluence with Wateree Creek, it becomes the Wateree River.


The Catawba is heavily dammed, including the following:

North Carolina

South Carolina


In 2006 the river became the center of a water use controversy between the residents of the Catawba watershed and Cabarrus County, North Carolina. The cities of Concord and Kannapolis are expecting a daily shortfall of 22 million gallons of water a day by 2035 and want to pump up to 36 million gallons of water daily from the Catawba. The Concord/Kannapolis Interbasin Transfer (IBT) proposal calls for water to be permanently transferred from one river basin to another river basin which is unlike the present water use infrastructure currently in use in the river basin where most municipalities that rely on the Catawba River for water remove the water from the river and treat it in wastewater treatment plants for residential use. Much of that treated water eventually returns to the Catawba River.

Though neither Concord nor Kannapolis are located in the Catawba River basin, The city governments say the Catawba River is a regional resource and the IBT is needed to support the two cities’ future growth needs. Opponents of the IBT argue that towns and cities along the Catawba River basin are growing as well , and that the cities' request is too large.

Foes of the plan also say the Concord/Kannapolis IBT request doesn’t adequately address lower-than-usual river levels due to drought.

On January 10, 2007, the North Carolina state environmental panel authorized Concord and Kannapolis to pump up to 10 million gallons a day from the Catawba River. This decision represented a compromise recommended by hearing officers for the Environmental Management Commission. The Mayors of Morganton and Valdese stated they were adamantly against the transfer and that the panel's ruling was skewed and biased. Concord's City Manager stated the approval of the water transfer was "bittersweet", since the panel authorized an amount much lower than was originally requested and is likely to be delayed by lawsuits. “Well, (officials from) Hickory are going to file an appeal,” said Concord Mayor Scott Padgett, who spoke briefly with Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright after the EMC meeting. “His major concern is changing the (interbasin transfer) process. My appeal to him is that there should be a truce. To file an appeal is just going to prolong something we deserve, is less than what we asked for and is going to further hard feelings this has already created.”

A river at risk

Starting in the early autumn months of 2007 the Catawba basin, along with large swaths of the Southern United States, began to feel the effects of an extreme drought. On October 15, 2007, the Morganton News Herald reported that North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley described the drought as "the worst in recorded history".

On January 29, 2008, Duke Energy, the company responsible for managing the Catawba River, extended its estimated time frame for Stage 4 water restrictions to August. The extension was possible because of conservation measures and the 6 inches of rain the basin received in December. However, area leaders converged on Valdese to hear presentations from Representatives of the N.C. Rural Center, N.C. Department of Commerce, N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Appalachian Regional Commission about grants and loans that are available to help pay for solutions to the drought.

In April 2008 the environmental group American Rivers named the Catawba-Wateree River "the most endangered river in America." Among the reasons cited for the river's bad health are the aforementioned drought, the presence of 11 hydroelectric dams, global warming, and unchecked development along it's banks. On June 11, 2008, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford signed legislation denoting the Catawba as a state scenic river. The designation carries no land-use restrictions, but it does allow the state to convene an advisory group to address river-related concerns.


The Catawba River is crossed by many highways over its course. (Note: this list may be incomplete)

North Carolina

South Carolina


See also

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