Catawba River Fifth Most Endangered River in America
April 22 is Earth Day and many in the nation are celebrating. But the Catawba River is in trouble.It has been named the fifth most endangered river in America, according to American Rivers. It made the organization’s 2013 list because of its coal ash pollution. Coal ash contains high levels of toxins including arsenic--which are linked to cancer, learning disabilities, neurological disorders and birth defects. The river also made America’s most endangered river list in 2008 and 2000 because of a predicted water shortage and other pollution. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities draws 113 million gallons of water per day from this waterway as well as about half a dozen other cities.Richard Gaskins is the Catawba Riverkeeper. He says the toxins are coming from four coal ash ponds, each one connected to a Duke Energy coal-burning plant. “So all of these ash ponds actually have a permitted discharge,” explains Gaskins. “But because they’re unlined and because of the way they are constructed there are contaminants that are seeping right through the dams and they have contaminants in them, like arsenic, going directly into the drinking water reservoirs.” The Catawba River feeds Mountain Island Lake. According to Gaskins, in May 2012 Mecklenburg County Utilities measured arsenic spikes at 35 micrograms per liter in the lake. The state’s standard for arsenic in a body of water like Mountain Island Lake is 10 micrograms per liter.Erin Colbert is spokeswoman for Duke Energy. She says the ash ponds are no threat to the Catawba. “The ash dams are very safe,” she explains. “And we continue to know through ongoing monitoring that the water quality in the Catawba is also very safe and is not being negatively influenced from the operations of our facility.” According to Colbert, Duke Energy’s readings indicate there are about 2 micrograms of arsenic per liter of water in the Catawba. Colbert also says Duke Energy is in the process of converting its coal plants to gas.