Hendersonville Times-News Feb. 7, 2005

Improvements to begin soon on watershed

By Jim Wooldridge
Times-News Correspondent

Work is scheduled to start in late summer on state and federal projects to restore parts of a stream in the Mud Creek watershed.

The projects were announced Wednesday by Diane Silver, coordinator of the Mud Creek Watershed Restoration Project. She was one of the speakers at the winter school for apple growers in the Quality Inn and Suites.

The restoration work is part of the effort to improve the quality of water in the Mud Creek Watershed, now classified as unsafe for swimming or fishing. The watershed drains more than a third of Henderson County.

"For nearly two years we have been educating the community about the poor condition of the watershed," Silver said. "Now we will shift the focus toward making actual improvements."

The first stream to be improved will be Lewis Creek, on the watershed's Southeast boundary. The creek flows north to its junction with Clear Creek through an area that contains some apple orchards and forested slopes. Some of the orchards have been abandoned for several years, Silver said.

"We chose this sub-watershed as the starting point because there are many needs for upgrading," she said. "It will also give us a chance to demonstrate what can be done."

State funds will finance the first work. The Ecosystem Enhancement Program, which is funded mainly by the N.C. Department of Transportation, has earmarked about $400,000 to restore 2,000 feet of Lewis Creek between Ridge Road and U.S. 64 East bridges.

Mike McDonald, EEP manager for Western North Carolina, said the project will repair storm-washed banks, restore the streams natural meanders and plant 30-foot-wide strips of native riparian plants on each side of the creek.

McDonald worked in the original study of the Mud Creek Watershed when the overall need for improvement was established. His EEP office is at 269 Hilliard St., Asheville. He may be also be contacted by calling 231-7912.

He said conservation easements had been obtained from the property owners where the work will be done. EEP pays 80 percent of the land's market value for the easements that do not allow public access to the property.

Additional work in the Lewis Creek watershed will be funded with federal money, obtained in a grant of $350,000 from the Environmental Protection Agency, Silver said.

The grant will finance about 1,500 feet of stream work similar to that planned by EEP for its project. The grant will also provide for mitigation of pollution remaining in the soil of the abandoned orchards, plus purchase of four "Smart Sprayers," the type that minimizes the amount of pesticide used. The program will reduce contamination at the source, not just in the stream, she explained.

Silver urged Lewis Creek property owners to contact her about the program, which is expected to be active for the next three years.

Her office is in the N.C. Cooperative Extension Center at Jackson Park. She may also be contacted by calling 697-4891.

The main problem throughout the Mud Creek Watershed, she said, is sedimentation, the erosion of soil particles that rob the water of its oxygen and kill many forms of aquatic life.

Other pollutants are discharged on the ground in both urban and rural areas and are washed by rains into the streams, she said. "