(BFP reader submitted photo)
Anybody can see the Catawba River is in trouble.
All that land uncovered by retreating water is a constant reminder of just how much. It looks like you could play softball or miniature golf on wide open spaces that were once inundated. As I worry about the river, I’ve wondered if the land will be permanently damaged by prolonged exposure and if the river would look the same once the drought ends.
Two local river experts — Joe Stowe of Belmont and Jimmy Drumm of Mount Holly — recently told me the exposed land won’t be harmed in the long run.
Both have been keeping a close watch on the river they love. They’ve never seen the water as low and or been so amazed at the things they’ve found there.
Stowe, 66, who is chairman of the Lake Wylie Marine Commission, recently spotted a 3-foot-diameter red oak stump near his boat lift.
It was an opportunity for him to clear out a major chunk of debris. Sparks flew as Stowe’s chainsaw bit hard into the stump.
The thing didn’t want to come out of the spot where it had been sunk so long the wood had almost petrified.
The shrinking Catawba is full of surprises in these critical times.
The drought has changed the dynamics of wildlife along the river.
Stowe said more raccoons, squirrels and deer are watering in the river as small creeks and streams dry up in nearby forests.
He’s seen muskrats moving to the water as their dens are exposed in riprap along the shoreline.
The muskrats and raccoons are also dealing with a reduced food source.
Stowe said that in early summer, as the river banks first began retreating, mussels were exposed and died. The rotten mussels attracted flocks of buzzards, gulls and crows. That’s passed now, but Stowe said the mussel population took a big hit.
With boat traffic down, he said the river actually looks cleaner. He thinks people are taking better care of the ailing Catawba.
Competitive fisherman Jimmy Drumm isn’t on the Catawba as often — only about twice a week instead of four or five because of the drought.All the boat landings have been closed except for the one at Nivens Creek in Lake Wylie, S.C.
Drumm, 60, has fished the river since age 3. He knows the Catawba’s stories and lore and respects it highly.
His current view of the river: There’s plenty of deep water and fish are still biting.
Just be careful when you get out there. And don’t even think about venturing north of the railroad trestle in Belmont. From that point about two miles or so upriver to the Mountain Island Dam, the going is extremely treacherous.
(BFP reader submitted photo)
“It was very, very slow going,” Drumm said. “I was amazed at the rock beds and the clusters of trash and roots and stumps. I’d never seen this stuff before.”
On the exposed ground, he saw bridge abutments washed away by the legendary flood of July 1916 — the same high water that destroyed the Mountain Island textile mill and village. Drumm spotted an old wooden device with metal hooks that may have been used at the mill to roll logs or cotton bales.
He also found an old wagon wheel hub and spokes. When he returned later to get the items, someone had already beaten him to them. Drumm has heard about folks hunting the exposed land for musket balls and arrowheads.
As the drought continues, the river reveals pieces of the region’s past.
I hope the drought breaks soon, but forecasts don’t look good.
Stowe said if the river level drops another foot, some water intakes will become inoperable. Continued conservation is a must.
Meanwhile, Stowe and Drumm also are concerned about the river’s long-term future.
Managing sediment caused by development will continue to be a problem long after the drought.
Maybe our worries in this extraordinary dry season will stick in our minds. When the river rebounds, it still will be in trouble and need our help.