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What you may not know about your local streams and creeks!

At my family reunion in High Point, North Carolina, my son and his cousin played in a creek, catching crawfish for hours.  It was the highlight of his weekend and reminded me of my own fond memories of fresh water ‘frolicking’.  My friends and I would sneak off to neighborhood creeks, where we would wade in search for similar critters. All sense of time would escape us and we could easily spend an entire Saturday afternoon there.

When my husband came home a week after our reunion and announced that “most of Mecklenburg County streams and creeks are unsuitable to walk in”, I was taken aback.  As I challenged him, hoping he was mistaken, I felt sick and remembered the recent crawfish hunt.  Great, another worry to add to the Mommy list!  Poisonous creeks?

Turns out, his source was very reliable.  My husband works for a General Contractor and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Land Use & Environmental Services monitors water quality and construction procedures, which is where he heard the statistic.  I confirmed on CharMeck.org that 81% of watersheds in Mecklenburg County have streams that are “impaired” by state standards!

Mecklenburg County officials don’t recommend swimming, wading or having any recreational activity in these local waters…and there are 2,000 miles of streams in the area, according to Adopt-a-Stream, so the polluted waters represent a significant portion of our local land.  These streams are deemed unsuitable to even walk in, much less drink from!

I asked my husband, ‘what about the lakes’?  Apparently they are safe for recreation, but beware of consumption of the water or fish.  PCB’s, Polychlorinated Biphenyls, man-made compounds used in electrical equipment, paints, paper and many more items, are found in large-mouth bass in Lake Wylie and other areas (Lake Norman was not tested…one of those things that make you go ‘hmmm’).  PCB’s affect neurological development of children, can impair their ability to learn early on and are tied to reproductive and immune system damage and can even cause cancer.

Mercury is also found in our local fish in quantities that are concerning. Mercury is released into the air and falls into the water from coal-burning power plants (think energy plants on Lake Norman). We all need to watch the types and frequency of eating fish, due to the alarming mercury levels in our waters.  Mercury affects brain cells, spinal cord and nerve cells, especially in young children and unborn infants. This prevalent element acts as a nerve toxin and can impair the way we see, hear, walk and talk (EPA, 1997).

Water quality is the environmental elephant in the room.  It is a catastrophic problem in many parts of the globe. Did you know that the Ancient Romans had better water quality than half of the people alive today? It’s a topic worthy of much discussion and quite complicated.  What I do know is that it’s dangerous to let my child be a kid in his own backyard….and that is very disturbing to me as a concerned parent.

Playing in streams is an important part of being a kid. The experience is an environmental life lesson, not just a simple walk in the creek.  I shudder to think my son and future generations will never experience this lesson in our local area.

How can you and I help wrestle this elephant?

Look at the biggest sources of water pollution:  Sediment, Bacteria, Toxic Metals, Pesticides, Fertilizers, and Petroleum Products.  On a normal day, we don’t control most of these elements from our home, it’s up to the building contractors, industrial manufacturers and big businesses to do the right thing, follow regulation and be good stewards of our planet.

However, we can make an impact when we take a look in our garages, and view the Charmeck.org publications on planting and maintaining lawnswithout the use of toxic products.  Anything we put on our lawn goes directly into the storm water drain when it rains. With some education and better, safer product selection, we can do our small part in helping the problem.

When there are safer, effective options, why would we choose to poison our world at the expense of our green grass and perfectly manicured lawns? Finding safer alternatives may be the least we can do, but it’s the least we can do!

I pray that our children and their children can play in the local creeks again, without fear of disease and bacteria, but beware of the current conditions…and in the meantime, please spread the word!