Troubled Waters

Rivers stretch like veins across the entire state of North Carolina. From the far western corner of the state to the rivers that rush into the Atlantic Ocean, most North Carolinian rivers serve as a source of drinking water and outdoor recreation for the communities that surround them.

But almost all these rivers are in danger for a variety of reasons.

In the western part of North Carolina, coal ash ponds dot the landscape around the Catawba River. The possibility of leakage and untreated discharges threatens the overall health of the river. The Neuse River, which flows southeast into the Pamlico Sound in the Atlantic, is also endangered by this looming threat.

Last February, most of the nation’s headlines were centered on the Dan River coal ash spill. This river, which winds along the border of North Carolina and Virginia, is still under repair. The Haw River, south of the Dan, is also recovering from a recent wastewater spill. The Haw suffers from storm water runoff, as well as the community’s outdated view on the health of the river, but it was also just named No. 9 on American River’s top 10 endangered rivers list.

Various organizations and companies have dedicated themselves to the health and recovery of these four rivers. Through education, outdoor recreation and conservation, the public is gaining more access to information about the rivers that flow through their communities. Since all these rivers move through urban areas, it is impossible for them to remain pristine. Waste, runoff, trash and chemicals all threaten their biological health and have impacted the people who live with the river in their backyards.

Even as these organizations fight an uphill battle to clean North Carolina’s rivers, drinking water is still contaminated. All four profiled rivers – the Haw, Neuse, Dan and Catawba – as well as many other rivers, provide many resources for the surrounding communities. Polluting them endangers not only the wildlife that lives in or near the river, but also the people who rely on it.


I was chosen to lead a group of eight young professional journalists to complete an in-depth, multimedia project concerning the various issues with four major rivers in North Carolina. As a well-rounded group, we covered the Haw, Dan, Neuse and Catawba River. To read the whole story, as well as fiddle around with our interesting and interactive multimedia, please click here.


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