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Enviro groups get hearing to contest Duke license on Catawba-Wateree

Duke Energy wants to continue operating its 11 dams on the Catawba-Wateree River for another 50 years and hopes to have a federal license renewed by next year. But first it needs permission from both North and South Carolina water regulators. The South Carolina part of that process has hit a snag. When the Catawba River crosses into South Carolina it becomes the Wateree, so both states must approve water quality before Duke Energy can get a renewed license for its dams. North Carolina gave that approval in November. South Carolina gave it just last month, but has now agreed to hear complaints from the Coastal Conservation League and American Rivers. Coastal Conservation League spokesman Patrick Moore says South Carolina is giving Duke Energy permission to hold back so much water in it reservoirs that wetlands and the shortnose sturgeon, which is an endangered species. "Duke is asserting there are no sturgeon below the Wateree Dam even though there is evidence on the record saying that there are sturgeon there," says Moore. "They can't get past it to spawn. The other issue is water volume. They need higher flows in the springtime for spawning, and Duke is refusing to provide those higher flows." Duke Energy spokesman Andy Thompson says the company has done extensive studies and found no sign of the shortnose sturgeon. Furthermore, he says the amount of water environmental groups want the company to release down the river could be a problem, because it would mean lower lake levels. "That would essentially put large water users, for example communities that pull drinking water out of the lakes, in potential danger of uncovering their water intakes during periods of drought," says Thompson. Thompson says Duke's proposal strikes a good balance between lake levels and river flow. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control Board will hear both sides of the issue at its next meeting on July 9th. Aluminum company Alcoa also faces a challenge from environmental groups to its water quality certificate on the Yadkin River in North Carolina.