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River Week Asks That You Drink for the Catawba

Spider lilies on the Catawba River (Photo Courtesy of Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation)

Have you ever seriously wondered where our city’s water comes from? 

In case you forgot (or never cared to find out) almost every drop of Charlotte’s water — from what comes out of your home sprinkler system and faucets to what goes into the beer at your local brewery — is sourced from the Catawba-Wateree River Basin (CWRB). 

If you’re one of those folks who never considers such things, at least take comfort in knowing that there are people out there who consider it for you — and do much more than that. 

The not-for-profit Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation (CRF) was founded in 1997 to protect, educate and advocate for the Catawba-Wateree River Basin and its 5,000 square miles of waterways touching 24 counties in North and South Carolina. On Aug. 4, the organization launches its annual River Week, a week-long fundraising effort in which participating Charlotte breweries donate a portion of their sales to CRF and organizers host educational events to raise awareness for the nonprofit’s efforts. 

As a self-described “guardian of the river,” riverkeeper Brandon Jones lobbies for better environmental policies, runs workshops and organizes events for CRF. 

“We’re the Lorax, we try to represent and speak for the river,” Jones said. 

For those of you who aren’t Dr. Seuss fans, the Lorax is the character of a 1971 children’s book of the same name. The Lorax “speaks for the trees” and opposes The Once-ler, who causes environmental damage.

Launched in 2015, River Week is about recognizing that the fight to keep our water clean never ends. In recent decades, one of the biggest issues facing the Catawba-Wateree River Basin has been the creation and storage of coal ash, which is the byproduct of burning coal to produce electricity.

Though the topic has fallen out of many people’s minds as Duke Energy has shut down most of its coal plants along the basin, there are still 120 million tons of coal ash stored in unlined, leaking impoundments — or coal ash ponds — along the 29 miles of the basin nearest Charlotte. On Aug. 2, an administrative judge ruled that ruled that the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality can move ahead with orders for Duke to excavate coal ash ponds at six sites, rejecting Duke’s motion to dismiss, filed on April 1. 

“River Week is just about educating people where the water comes from, where their beer comes from and just letting them know that there are issues out there and they can protect it,” Jones said.

River Week 2019 kicks off with a rainwater barrel workshop at Blue Blaze Brewing in partnership with Charlotte Outdoor Alliance (COA), an umbrella organization launched in November 2018 to support other outdoor-centric nonprofits in the city. COA’s mission is to brand and advocate for Charlotte as an outdoor recreation and tourism hub of the southeast.

COA founder Alex Via (right) tables at Tuck Fest. (Photo Courtesy of Alex Via)

The rain water barrel workshop is an education piece of River Week 2019 that will help participants learn new ways to cut down on public water usage, said COA founder Alex Via.

“The rain barrel workshop specifically is a way that kind of allows you to collect rain barrel water at your home or business and helps conserve the usage of water,” Via explained. “So instead of watering your lawn with a hose or different things like that or washing your car with city water that comes from the Catawba ultimately, it conserves water and allows it to last. We’re able to sustain that water source as opposed to depleting it.”

Other events include a Little Sugar Creek cleanup, beer-for-a-year raffles and a block party in Lower South End. 

Coincidentally, an unrelated water-based fundraising program will also be held at a brewery on the tail end of River Week. 

DUAL Commercial, part of Hyperion Insurance Group in London, England, is participating in a global fundraising effort called Million for a Million. The company hosts various fundraising activities across the world, the money from which is matched by Hyperion and given to a charity in each one of their four pillars of charity: cancer, mental health, poverty and environment. Black Dog Institute, Cancer Research UK, InteRed and Plastic Oceans will each benefit from the global fundraiser. 

(Photo courtesy of Plastic Oceans.)

Emily Gruber, executive assistant at DUAL in Charlotte, is hosting The Last Straw event at Triple C Brewery on Aug. 11 to benefit Plastic Ocean’s efforts for educating people and pushing reforms in consumer plastic use. 

“It’s affecting oceans globally, I mean from the wildlife to you see it just when you’re swimming, you’re surrounded by trash and plastic,” Gruber lamented. “I lived in Wilmington for the last seven years and every time I would go to the beach, you would see things washing up on the beach.”

Much like the River Week events, The Last Straw will have food, music and raffle prizes for attendees, as well as an educational piece to turn consumers away from single-use plastic habits that are affecting the world’s oceans. 

“I think it’s up to everybody to make an effort to preserve and conserve [our oceans], and to change our attitude around plastic but I think it starts with awareness,” Gruber explained. “I think Plastic Oceans continues to put a lot of effort toward the truth of how bad the problem is and not only that, but shedding light on solutions and letting everyone know the truth behind the pollution that we’re creating.”

It’s not just pollution in the ocean. Jones has seen plenty of pollution happening here in Charlotte, as well. And we could all be a little better at picking up after ourselves. 

“Be mindful of your waste, so anything that lands on the ground in Charlotte eventually gets washed into the storm drains,” Jones said. ”And then those go into the creeks, and then that goes into the river, and that’s what we have to drink.”

You already drink from the Catawba, now it’s your chance to drink for the Catawba. 

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