Cherokee Scout December 2, 2008

Residents learn how to correct riverbank erosion

By DWIGHT OTWELL
dotwell@cherokeescout.com


Marble – A number of people braved icy, harsh winds to walk along the bank of the Valley River to see the benefits of riverbank protection.

The Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition held a field day on Nov. 21 at the future site of Valley River RV Resort off U.S. 19/74. Experts were on hand to offer advice about watershed restoration and protection programs offered in Cherokee and Clay counties.

Tony Ward, restoration coordinator for the coalition, said they were showing area landowners options for land restoration work. Jean Miller of Murphy came out to ask about bank erosion and beaver destruction along her property on the Nottely River. Other questions fielded from the public included what to do about invasive, non-native species, how to prevent damage through buffer areas and what to do about erosion along waterways, said Callie Moore, executive director of the coalition.

Michael Stiles of the Cherokee County Soil and Water Conservation District said they visit property owners with waterway problems and give advice or plans, sometimes including design drawings. They always encourage planting of trees.

Moore said the secondary purpose of the field day was to raise awareness that they are trying to protect water quality in the area.

“Our water is relatively clean, but we still have issues,” she said. “We don’t want to see them get out of hand.”

She took visitors on a tour of the mile of riverbank work done to correct erosion along the Valley River at the RV resort. The Tennessee Valley Authority flew over the watershed taking infra-red photographs, looking for bank erosion and areas devoid of trees and shrubs along the bank. The resort property was one of the high priority properties to restore, Moore said.

If the property owner had been local, coalition personnel wold have gone to their residence and discussed entering into a conservation easement agreement so the river could be protected. However, the owner of the RV site is Valley River LLC. The managing partner is Rick Jones of Florida. The coalition wrote a letter to Jones, and he was interested in the proposal to enter into an easement agreement.

“Our programs are volunteer. We work with whoever wants to work with us,” Moore said. “Our primary purpose here was to fix the bank erosion problem and improve the fish habitat. Temperature is a primary concern.”

Lack of trees and shrubs to provide shade raises water temperature, which is harmful to the cold water fish species in the river. All coalition projects need a 30-foot buffer zone for native trees and shrubs. The RV resort donated 50 feet of buffer.

Micky Clemmons, engineer for the project, said a conservation agreement means the landowner allows the easement area to be managed in a natural state. That means buildings can’t be constructed in the easement area, but picnic tables and a pavilion could be allowed. Walking trails can’t be concrete, but must be mulched or porous.

“The benefits of a conservation easement are great,” Clemmons said.

“People are really going to enjoy this,” Moore added about the Valley River RV Resort easement.

Work done on the one-mile stretch will improve water quality and fish habitat, creating good fishing and a beautiful area for a walking path.

The Valley River is home to a rare breed of sucker fish called sickle-fin redhorse, Clemmons said. The fish are a candidate for the endanger species list, Moore said. Some of the fish have been radio tagged to learn more about them. The fish were discovered in 2006, and dwell primarily in the Little Tennessee and Valley River between Murphy and Andrews.

The project included building six j-hook rock vane structures along the river. For example, one vane had two logs anchored into the bank with logs interlocked and pinned with re-bar to prevent the logs from washing downstream.

The structure prevents the river from pushing against the riverbank and eroding it. It causes water to hit a pocket of water and slow down and not tear up the riverbank, protecting the river for a “good distance” downstream, Moore said.

The project also included planting of 1,714 trees in the 50-foot buffer. A total of 21 native species were planted, including river birch, sweetgum, red maple, willow oak, witch hazel, crabapple, buttonbush, white oak, mulberry and swamp chestnut oak. The project was done in fall 2006.

Other agencies participating in the field day were the Land Trust for the Little Tennessee, Natural Resources Conservation Service and N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program.