Catawba River fills with bacteria as rain continues to fall

Published: Jul. 12, 2013 at 9:11 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 11, 2013 at 9:11 PM EDT
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ROCK HILL, SC (WBTV) - Rainfall totals aren't the only number rising in Metrolina, so are bacteria levels in the Catawba River.

"We've had about 3 million gallons of sewage overflow into the Catawba River over the past 12 months and almost all of those are during rain events," said Catawba Riverkeeper Executive Director Rick Gaskins.

Gaskins knows all too well the health risks that come when rain pounds Metrolina continuously, pouring in millions of bacterial particles in the river, causing levels to rise extremely higher than normal.

"It's embarrassing, but because it's so well known among the scientist that you're going to have high levels of bacteria during these big rain events, they don't even bother sampling anymore," said Gaskins.

Gaskins says runoff from roads and rooftops causes chemicals to spill into the Catawba, but we found one of the biggest culprits just feet from the river.

"Fecal Coliform is a big problem. It's bacteria, so that is a major pollutant. Nutrients are a major pollutant. The fertilizers we put in yards, golf courses and things like that," said Gaskins.

With the increased levels of bacteria in the Catawba, Gaskins recommends that no one swims or eat fish from the river, well, we found one man who said he'll take his chances.

"I would not drink out of it. I would not drink out of it, but I would swim in it. I have done that," said John Gowdy.

Gowdy lives near the river and enjoys activities in the Catawba, no matter the condition.

"We've had neighborhood rafting and kayaking parties and I think it's equivalent to any other river or stream near a big city," he said.

"Generally during these big high flow periods, it's just best to stay out of the water," said Gaskins.

Just a bit of advice from Gaskins as the chances of rain letting up in Metrolina are just as murky as the Catawba.

Gaskins says there are ways you can avoid polluting the river. Always pick up waste from your pets and if possible divert runoff from the roof of your home into a barrel, let it sit for a day or two, then use it to water your garden or yard.

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