The Yadkin River Story

The Winter/Spring 2011 issue of North Carolina Conversations, a publication of the North Carolina Humanities Council, included a lengthy article by Pheobe Zerwick on the Yadkin River Story, accompanied by Christine Rucker's photos.

The Yadkin River Story is a multimedia documentary project about a stretch of the Yadkin River near the East Bend and the people who have made the river a part of their lives. Photographer Christine Rucker and writer Pheobe Zerwick combined their talents for the project. They partnered with the Yadkin Riverkeeper to obtain grants from the N.C. Humanities Council, the John W. and Anna H. Hanes Foundation and the Arts Council of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County. <--break->The project blog was started in October 2009. A photo exhibit opened in September 2010 at the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center with the launch of the web-based multimedia project.

Visit the Yadkin River Story blog.

Yadkin River Story Exhibit

The Yadkin River Story:  A River of the People exhibit is now in the Eleanor and Egbert Davis Gallery at Sawtooth School for Visual Art.  More info at or

Alcoa Timeline

The Yadkin River Story puts a human face on a mighty river. But there’s another story playing out on the Yadkin as it flows south through the Uwharrie Mountains, a story of power and big business, globalization and water quality. At the turn of the last century, the Yadkin River flowed through a deep ravine at a place known as the Narrows with such force that after Niagara Falls it was considered the best potential source of power in the eastern United States. Alcoa, already a leading aluminum producer, completed its first dam there in 1917 and over time built three more dams to generate the power needed to fire an aluminum smelter. Today, the smelter in Badin is idle and Alcoa sells the electricity it generates from the Yadkin on the open grid. State officials and environmentalists are trying to stop Alcoa from getting the federal license it needs to run these dams. The issue is tied up in legal proceedings and technical jargon, but the question comes down to this: should the right to generate power from the Yadkin River be held by a private company or revert back to the public?

1886: Alcoa’s founder co-invents the process for smelting aluminum, a process that requires large amounts of power.

1917: The Narrows dam is completed and Alcoa begins producing hydropower for its Badin Works plant.

1920: Congress passes the Federal Power Act to regulate hydroelectric dams, with a clause that’s never been tested that allows the government to reclaim hydroelectric projects.

1958: Alcoa receives a 50-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate four dams along the Yadkin River.

2002: Alcoa closes its smelter at the Badin Works plant while continuing to make aluminum ingot there until 2007.

2006: Alcoa files its relicensing application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

2007: North Carolina issues a water quality permit, a critical step for Alcoa in the relicensing process and a number of landowners, local governments and state agencies sign an agreement in support of Alcoa.

2009: North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue asks federal officials to deny Alcoa’s request for a new license; Stanly County and the Yadkin Riverkeeper file legal action asking the state to revoke its quality permit.

2010: North Carolina environmental officials revoke the water quality permit; Alcoa says it will appeal the decision as it continues to seek the renewal of its 50-year license.