Ashley Phykitt

Charlotte, N.C.

Two years ago, an article in Charlotte Magazine detailed a day in the life of former Catawba Riverkeeper David Merryman and his battles to keep the river clean from coal ash. When Ashley Phykitt, then a 10-year-old, read the article, she was so inspired that she just had to get involved.

Ashley met up with David, and the two sampled water from Mountain Island Lake, the source of Charlotte’s drinking water, which lies adjacent to the Riverbend Steam Station’s coal ash ponds. What they found in their water samples was toxicity in the coal ash discharge areas of Mountain Island Lake, suggesting that the toxic coal ash was seeping into the larger body of water.

Ashley, now 12 years old, presented her findings and won a “Special North Carolina American Waterworks Prize” from the North Carolina Science Engineering Fair in 2011. This past April, she traveled with Earthjustice and Physicians for Social Responsibility to Washington D.C., to present her findings to policymakers. She says that her time there was “pretty fun,” and that the policymakers were also “pretty serious.”

She suggests, from the findings in her project, that people should reduce the amount of electricity they use and find alternative means of energy besides coal. She is considering testing Lake Norman and Lake Wiley for water toxicity as well. Needless to say, for a seventh-grader, Ashley is well on her way to being a serious keeper of the waters. — By Matt Grimley

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