Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Catawba Riverkeeper's got our back

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2010 at 4:17 PM

A few of you know this by now: Ever since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deemed the two unlined coal ash ponds behind Duke Energy's Riverbend Steam Station as having "high-hazard potential," I've been nose-deep in all things coal ash related.

Those ponds, by the way, are fewer than a dozen miles from the center of Uptown. And any day now the E.P.A.'s administrator, Lisa Jackson, is supposed to announce new coal ash regulations that will affect us all — that is, of course, if she can get past lobbyists' protests.

One of the first things I noticed once I dug into the piles and piles of research I collected was that the discharge from the ponds enters Mountain Island Lake just upstream from where Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities withdrawals 80 percent of our area's drinking water. One of the other initial things I noticed was that David Merryman's name kept popping up. He is our Catawba Riverkeeper.

I can't say that David and I have become friends, but I can tell you that I have gotten to know this man from an arm's reach and that he is genuine and a sincere advocate for our river who once said — and I love this, "I don't tag myself as an environmentalist, I tag myself as a water drinker."

With that, I hope you'll pick up a copy of the February issue of Charlotte Magazine, where I profile David and do my best to explain his battle to protect every being and business that relies on the river to survive. You can also read it online. Here's an exerpt:

Merryman is the Catawba Riverkeeper. His job is to be the voice of the river named after the area's original inhabitants, a river that begins twenty miles east of Asheville and winds its way through two states while collecting water from a 5,000-square-mile watershed. In North Carolina alone, the river has 182 discharge permits, or licenses to pollute, all of which are up for renewal in 2010. One of those permits gives Duke Energy permission to drain water from two unlined, high-hazard coal ash ponds into Mountain Island Lake, the source of 80 percent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg's drinking water.

"All day, every day these coal ash ponds are discharging directly into our primary drinking water reservoir," says Merryman. "I've not received any assurance that our river, its wildlife, or our drinking water is being protected by these permits."

As the river's advocate, he will analyze every word of every permit, investigate every tip, scrutinize every new regulation, and watchdog every polluter in his ongoing pursuit to protect the Catawba, and all of us, from harm. And he does all that while balancing water-quality concerns with demands from businesses that rely on the Catawba to function, create jobs, and be successful.

"The safety and prosperity of millions throughout the Carolinas depend on the Catawba," says Merryman. "We have no option but to make sure it is fully protected." With all of its discharge permits under review in 2010, this is the perfect year for him to prove his point.

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