Kevin Seabrook

(Charlotte, N.C.) — One non-profit group is working to monitor and protect the 8,900 miles of waterways connected to the Catawba-Wateree River Basin.

Since the 1990s, the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation has brought together a team of scientists, advocates and volunteers to monitor the river that runs through 26 counties in North and South Carolina.

The river basin includes the 225-mile Catawba-Wateree River, 11 lakes, 14 dams and thousands of miles of creeks, streams and tributaries.

“Our goal is to educate and advocate for the protection of the Catawba-Wateree watershed. Sometimes we’re concentrating on education and letting people know, other times we’re working on legislative or litigation issues to curb pollution,” said Riverkeeper Brandon Jones.

Jones is the sixth person to hold the title of riverkeeper since 1998 and he focuses on monitoring threats to clean water, including pollution discharges, stormwater runoff and waterborne diseases.

For example, last year the group reached an agreement with Duke Energy to clean-up and evacuate six coal ash sites in North Carolina, after nearly eight years of negotiations.

However, Jones said as communities in the region continue to expand, there is a demand not only conservation, but also recreation.

“We’re also just trying to get people to connect with their environment and get people outside,” said Jones.

The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation hosts and sponsors many events including River Jam, summer camps, educational training and river cleanups.

Jones said the Catawba River watershed is one of the most important assets in upper South Carolina and lower North Carolina, as it provides drinking water for more than 2 million residents and generates electricity for nearly 3 million residents.