Settlement secures key protections for Catawba-Wateree rivers, ends legal stalemate
Agreement benefits fish and wildlife, protects river healthJuly 17th, 2014
Gerrit Jobsis, American Rivers, 803.546.7926, [email protected]
Julie Youngman, attorney, SELC, 919-619-3518,
Natalie Olson, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, 843-723-8035, [email protected]
Columbia, S.C. - American Rivers, the Southern Environmental Law Center, and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League announced a settlement agreement with Duke Energy and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control that includes important protections for the Catawba and Wateree rivers and imperiled fish and wildlife. The agreement ends a legal stalemate over the issuance of a new operating license for the Catawba-Wateree hydroelectric project.
“This is a great victory for the river and everyone who cares about the health of the Catawba and Wateree rivers,” said Gerrit Jobsis, Southeast Regional Director for American Rivers. “This settlement ensures that Duke Energy does its part to take care of these rivers that are an important resource for people and nature in this region.”
The Catawba-Wateree project is the nation’s largest hydroelectric project currently undergoing the federal licensing process. The project consists of 11 dams and impacts 300 miles of the Catawba and Wateree rivers from the North Carolina foothills near Morganton, North Carolina, to Congaree National Park near Columbia, South Carolina. Operating licenses, once issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, last from 30 to 50 years and can include a broad array of measures to benefit river and ecosystem health, including the release of more natural flows, water quality improvements, and fish passage requirements.
“This is a great day for the Catawba-Wateree River. The agreement between the parties strikes the proper balance between energy supply and ecological protection – and that’s good news for folks who care about the river,” said Julie Youngman, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.
The Catawba-Wateree settlement ensures Duke Energy will provide special water releases from the Wateree Dam to benefit endangered sturgeon and other species. Sturgeon, found in 76 miles of the Wateree River, benefit from certain flows at specific times of the year to aid in their spawning. The settlement also safeguards specific dam operations for seasonal inundation of the Wateree River floodplain, a natural area without homes or businesses. This will allow dam operations to more closely reflect natural conditions and protect the area’s fish and wildlife. Through the settlement, Duke Energy agrees to halt legal and regulatory challenges to the state of South Carolina’s ability to issue a water quality permit for the new operating license.
“This agreement will have positive, long-term benefits for water quality, wildlife, and important habitats like the downstream Congaree National Park,” said Natalie Olson, Project Manager for the S.C. Coastal Conservation League. “This agreement represents the future of businesses, governments, and the community working together to find comprehensive solutions to environmental challenges.”
Each year at least 10 million people visit the Catawba-Wateree to enjoy boating, camping, hiking and fishing. These visitors contribute to a $100 million recreation economy. American Rivers has named the Catawba and Wateree rivers among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® three times in the past decade because of outdated water management and threats to clean water.