The Haw River has but one syllable in its name. It is not thousands of miles long or so wide you can’t see across it nor is it the romantic object of balladeers and poets. Mark Twain didn’t drive a paddle boat on it or sit by its banks with his muse.
But this North Carolina Piedmont waterway is valued by residents along its path, and, yes, doggone it, the river is downright beautiful in some spots, particularly on a sunny day.
So it’s no small concern when a conservation group, American Rivers, names the Haw as one of the nation’s 10 most-endangered rivers in the country. Give the group credit. As reported by The News & Observer’s Craig Jarvis, the designation isn’t meant to signal that the river is polluted. It is all about raising public awareness when it comes to rivers that are potentially in peril but could be protected and could flourish if action is taken.
In the case of the Haw, the best thing that could happen would be restoration – the restoration of laws passed in 2009 to clean Jordan Lake, of which the Haw is a tributary. Lawmakers then were going to establish wetlands, retention ponds and stormwater controls in places upstream of the lake. Jordan is a dammed reservoir that supplies drinking water for five counties.
But towns and cities upstream of the lake didn’t like the costs involved with the long-term cleanup. And, when Republicans took control on Jones Street, those towns and cities had ears willing to listen to different ideas.
Sure enough, Republicans put the rules on hold and favored instead solar-powered rotation devices to clear algae in the lake. It’s uncertain at this point whether it will work, but environmentalists say that kind of action isn’t getting to the core of the problem. They believe, with good reason, that attacking the causes of problems in the lake upstream is the only long-term solution.
Peter Raabe of the American Rivers office in North Carolina says one problem with getting people interested in cleanup is that most problems are underground. “It’s really easy,” he said, “to put it in the back of your mind and not have to worry about it until there’s a major break or kids swimming become sick because there’s too much algae.”
He added, “We’re not in crisis mode yet, but if we keep going down the path we have been, there will be a crisis.”
If Jordan Lake has a crisis, the Haw has a crisis. And the state would have a crisis.
Joe Jacob has a canoe and kayak business in Saxapahaw and has been an eyewitness to the Haw’s evolution, bad and good. He recalls what the river looked like before the 1972 Clean Water Act and sees what it looks like now. Now is better. But Jacob says part of the problem is getting people’s attention because they don’t observe the long-term impact of what they do to a waterway.
“If you don’t love and care about something,” he said, “you’re less likely to defend it. That’s what we’re about.”
And it is something that, regarding all of North Carolina’s lakes and rivers, all citizens should be about.