Lincoln Times-News Jan. 9, 2009

Quality of water in Lincoln Co. creeks draws state scrutiny

by: Olin Ericksen

State officials plan to launch a $150,000 study next week to determine what is harming water quality and aquatic life in two Lincoln County streams.

About 70 square miles of the Indian Creek and 30 square miles of Howard’s Creek will be studied for the next three months by a team of scientists from the Ecosystem Enhancement Programs of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“The end goal is to identify the stresses to the streams and restore some of the natural habitat for aquatic life and water quality,” said Mike Herrmann, a watershed planner with the program.

The condition of Indian Creek was downgraded from “Good” to “Fair” more than two years ago as part of a routine statewide assessment of waterways. The category change was enough to trigger further review by the state as mandated under the U.S. Clean Water Act, Herrmann said.

The condition of Indian Creek is not only a concern because of the aquatic and other life upstream — or near Vale — but also because it supplies the town of Cherryville downstream with its drinking water.

State officials decided to include Howard’s Creek in the scope of the study after a cursory review of its conditions as well.

Herrmann, along with a handful of other team members, will be physically wading through several sections of the streams beginning next week, noting possible sources of pollution to ultimately make recommendations on remedies and policy.

No single source pollutant is known at this point, but Herrmann said he expect to find some agricultural runoff, both organic and chemical in nature, which may be contributing to the declining health of the waters.

Herrmann said any recommendations arising from the study that involves local property owners adjacent to the stream taking action would be strictly voluntary.

The state, for instance, may pay property owners to acquire easements where buffers along the stream can be built to help improve water quality.

Herrmann said while conditions in Indian Creek are still considered “Fair,” the studies are important to prevent conditions from worsening in the future and repair any damage that has already occurred.

“People should be able to fish and wade in it and enjoy it. We need to give the public assurance that their waterways are clean and healthy,” he said.

Indian Creek flows south into Lincoln County from Catawba County near Vale. It then winds through the western quarter of the county, crossing into Gaston County just north of Cherryville. The stream then turns back into Lincoln County near Crouse and flows east until merging with the South Fork of the Catawba River near Long Shoals.

Howard Creek rises in northwestern Lincoln County, just east of Indian Creek. It curves south and then east, going from Vale to Lincolnton where it merges with the South Fork near the site of the City of Lincolnton Water Treatment Plant.

For more information on the stream studies, call (919) 715-5458.