Lincoln Times-News Sept. 25, 2009

Worried about the water

by: Olin Ericksen

Sby: Sarah Melton (9/25/09)

Local and state officials visited Lincoln and Gaston county sites this week to determine the best means of improving the health and condition of their watershed’s streams and wetlands.
The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources Ecosystem Enhancement Program, or EEP, is assessing watershed conditions in Indian and Howard’s creeks.
The lower portion of Indian Creek, downstream from Cherryville, is currently considered to have impaired water quality by the state Division of Water Quality. The upper portion of Indian Creek supplies water to the town of Cherryville.
Howards Creek was included in the scope of the study after a state review of its conditions as well.
For the past year, EEP and consultant Entrix have been reviewing the existing data on the watersheds and holding stakeholder meetings with natural resource professionals. A stakeholder meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday at Gaston College’s Lincolnton campus, 511 S. Aspen Street.
Lincoln County and state officials took a closer look at possible watershed improvement projects at West Lincoln High School in Lincoln County and Cherryville High School and First Baptist Church, both in Gaston County, this week.
“We are looking for a specific area within the watershed that could potentially receive restoration work so stretches of streams that are degraded could be restored back to a more natural state to protect water quality,” said Robert Carson, a planner for Lincoln County. “We will also be looking for impacted wetlands.”
Hal Bryson, a watershed planner with EEP, said only minor watershed problems were found at Cherryville High School and First Baptist Church in Cherryville. Both Cherryville properties could help minimize watershed problems by installing bio-retention areas, landscaping features commonly installed with parking lots to treat stormwater runoff. The church could also host a small constructed wetland on its property.
The visitors were also interested in potential watershed improvement projects at West Lincoln High School, where stormwater runoff is draining into a ditch that drains into Indian Creek.
Expanding an existing pond would capture the runoff from the parking lot and an area around Shoal Road and N.C. 27. Estimated cost of the stormwater project would be $50,000-$80,000.
The pond expansion could be roughly the size of 3 percent of the parking lot, said Bill Hunt III, associate professor and extension specialist for stormwater management at North Carolina StateUniversity. “For the money spent per watershed, it is the best option,” he said.
Recommendations involving local property owners adjacent to streams in the watershed would be completely voluntary, said Mike Hermann, a watershed planner with EEP.
The state, for example, may pay property owners to acquire easements where plant buffers along the stream can be restored to improve water quality.
“We’ll need to start working with landowners for the sites and see if there is an interest in partnering with our program to do restoration,” Hermann said.
A draft of the local watershed plan is expected to come out by next spring. Funding for the restoration work would come from grants.
Expanding the pond into a constructed wetland, the costliest of the three Lincoln and Gaston county projects, could require only a week or two to build if funding was made available through grants.
Bryson said, “The watershed problems found in Indian and Howards creeks are relatively minor at present and addressing the problems would not be possible without the cooperative efforts of Lincoln and Gaston county natural resource professionals and landowners.”
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 project, visit www.lincolncounty.org. Click on the planning department’s page and then go to “Environmental.”
You can also call Mike Hermann at 919-715-5458 or Hal Bryson at 828-450-9408.