Charlotte Observer June. 19, 2005

Silt in creek a worry

Lower Creek is topic of meeting with state

GREG LACOUR
Staff Writer

State and regional planners want to talk to residents about problems on Lower Creek, a waterway in Caldwell and Burke counties that increasingly is choked with sediment from eroding banks.

Planners from the Hickory-based Western Piedmont Council of Governments will host a meeting with residents Tuesday at the main Caldwell County Library in Lenoir.

They and representatives from the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program, a division of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, want to work residents' concerns into a plan that would shape the creek's future -- specifically, they hope, stabilize the banks and curb erosion -- for the next 15-20 years. They want to adopt a plan within the next year.

The erosion and sedimentation problems are the product of decades of gradual increases in development and farming along the creek, planners said. Now, property owners are seeing chunks of their land slide into the water.

"The main thing is, the people working on it are aware of some of the problems the creek's had for the past 20 years or so," said John Kenny, a WPCOG senior planner. "But we really want some feedback from the people who live along the creek, some farming interests, to see what their concerns are."

Lower Creek begins in the hills northeast of Lenoir, flowing through the city and the neighboring town of Gamewell before discharging into Lake Rhodhiss, a dammed section of the Catawba River that straddles the Burke-Caldwell line. Along the way, numerous small streams and larger waterways such as Zack's Fork Creek flow into Lower Creek.

Over the years, as Lenoir and the surrounding area has grown, landowners have cut deeper and larger channels in spots along the creek to reduce the risk of flooding, said Mike Struve, WPCOG's water quality administrator. Also, Struve said, development and farming have stripped vegetation from the banks, making them more susceptible to erosion.

The result is that Lower Creek has gotten progressively siltier, and that introduces pollutants, bacteria and harmful nutrients into the water and endangers fish habitats, he said. But more important, he said, Lower Creek is one of the main tributaries of Lake Rhodhiss, which is in danger of filling up from an overload of sediment.

The state has placed the Lower Creek watershed on its list of waters that fail to consistently meet state water quality standards, and planners fear Lake Rhodhiss will end up on the list if they don't corral the erosion along Lower Creek, Struve said.

"Property owners are losing probably tons of land a year because of erosion, on their pastures and lawns," he said. "You can see it visibly being lost every year."

Want to Go? What: A public meeting to discuss residents' concerns about Lower Creek in Caldwell and Burke counties. When: 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday. Where: Main Caldwell County Library, 120 Hospital Ave., Lenoir. Details: Call Mike Struve at the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, (828) 485-4248, or e-mail him at mike.struve@wpcog.org.
Greg Lacour: (828) 324-0055; glacour@charlotteobserver.com