Opinion: Fix erosion and sedimentation issues in Charlotte rivers

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Davie Hinshaw / The Charlotte Observer archives
Part of the River District site southwest of the airport off Dixie River Road on the Catawba River.

Urban sprawl has been a hot topic in the Charlotte area for many years, with concerns ranging from gentrification to environmental impacts to transportation needs.

We can all agree Charlotte is a growing city with employment and social opportunities to attract a younger population, but the influx of residents in recent years has spiked urban development within the commuting circle of the city.

As housing construction expands, so does pollution to our waters. Pollution can refer to many things, but here I would like to specifically focus on soil erosion and sediment runoff. 

Erosion and sedimentation have been serious problems for centuries in the state, starting with widespread agricultural runoff in the past century and now construction runoff from a rapidly developing landscape. Sedimentation has many adverse effects on aquatic systems that are detrimental to wildlife, ecosystems and basic human needs.

Murky waters appear as such because particulates in the water reflect light differently than clean water, causing it to look “dirty.” Rivers that appear muddy have sediment inputs upstream that are forcing high volumes of eroded material down the river system, and in the case of the Catawba River, eventually settling behind dam impoundments. 

One of the most dammed rivers in the country

The Catawba River is one of the most dammed rivers in the country, providing the Charlotte area with drinking water, electricity, recreation and lake-front homes. These dams and development areas along the rivers and lakes put an enormous strain on our natural resources through wildlife habitat reduction, pollution of every kind and water quality impairment.

Sediment in the Catawba River is devastating to aquatic life but also to our drinking water, dam efficiencies and not to mention the vile appearance of a polluted stream. Sediment kills fish, fills lakes to make them less efficient, chokes out aquatic life and destroys riverine ecosystems, yet Charlotte continues to allow the lax environmental regulations of the state to pollute our city. 

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As a city that is trying to attract more millennials through amenities and business, acting on these issues should be a top priority. These are the people who care about environmental sustainability and in many ways are leading the country in new regulations to solve great environmental problems. We want to see these changes and want to work, live and play in a city that shares our values. 

Environmentally conscious growth

I grew up in Monroe and have spent 23 of my 25 years in the Charlotte area. I have seen how much the city has changed in recent years. I’m excited to see the growth of Charlotte but desire for it to do so in an environmentally conscious manner.

Having short-sighted development regulations may help bring business and housing to Charlotte today, but it will be the demise down the road. Not respecting and preserving our natural environment today will impede long-term success and prosperity of the city.

The time to act is now if we want to assure the longevity of this city. Charlotte needs to step up and be a leader in the New South development and hold developers accountable. River degradation and water quality impairment from erosion and construction runoff is easily controlled, and our policy-makers should be willing to face those developers on behalf of the people.

This is our city, and we don’t want to lose it because of short-sighted, greedy development policy. 

5 COMMENTS

  1. Matt, thank you for this article. If you or your readers would like to get actively involved in river cleanups or advocacy for the Catawba River, we would love for you to become a member or join us in a clean up.

      • Shawn, the Catawba Riverkeeper does organized clean-ups and events all throughout the Catawba River basin including Lake Wylie, Norman, and Mt Island. Check out the website for events and make sure to follow on Facebook.

  2. Thank you for writing this article. It’s an important topic. I haven’t heard others speak of it and I wonder if there are organized groups petitioning city, county and state governments? I remember the Catawba River keeper but it’s been many years since I’ve seen or heard anything in the news. Your article inspires me to look into that.

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