Hendersonville Times-News Sept. 24, 2007

Mud Creek project stresses protection, prevention, restoration

By Diane Silver
Natural resources

The Mud Creek Watershed Project is an effort to improve the water quality and stream habitat of Mud Creek and its tributaries, with the goal of some day removing Mud Creek from the state list of impaired water bodies.

To do this, the problems causing stream degradation at all levels and from all angles must be addressed.

Overall, the project takes a three-prong approach to improving water quality: Protection, Prevention and Restoration. Within each of these avenues, there are many programmatic elements and many target audiences whose participation is needed to achieve success.

The Mud Creek Project is housed by the Henderson County Cooperative Extension Service, but it includes many partner entities and agencies, including government officials and staff for Hendersonville, Flat Rock, Laurel Park and Henderson County. Federal and state agencies include the N.C. Division of Water Quality, Ecosystem Enhancement Program, Henderson County Soil and Water Conservation District, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Tennessee Valley Authority, U.S. EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, N.C. State University, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Blue Ridge Community College and other area colleges. Nonprofit organizations are involved, including the Environmental and Conservation Organization, Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, Riverlink and the Apple County Greenway Commission. Business groups include the Henderson County Chamber of Commerce and Partners for Economic Progress.

The key to success is each partner, be it an agency, business, or individual, doing what they do best, and coordinating those efforts to create a comprehensive approach to improving practices within the watershed.

Here is an outline of the comprehensive approach:

• Protection -- Protect streams through maintenance and re-establishment of stream buffers and wetlands by educating landowners and land managers about the importance of these features; training graders, maintenance staff, and other workers on protective techniques, for example, no-mow zones near streams; securing grant funds and administering programs to assist landowners in installing streambank stabilization and replanting projects.

• Prevention -- Prevention is handled through several programs. One is by keeping stream degradation from getting worse through hydrology management and managing stormwater run-off; training developers, designers and homeowners on use of raingardens, road swales, water harvesting and other strategies; and seeking grant funds to help implement these solutions.

Sediment and erosion control is also key to prevention by supporting local government and partner agencies educating the public about the impact of sedimentation, promoting training workshops for graders, construction managers, and homeowners on erosion control techniques, and directing reports to the proper enforcing agency. Henderson County has taken a key step with its new Sediment and Erosion Control Ordinance, which goes into effect Oct. 1.

Development must also be addressed. Residents need to be thoughtful and intentional in how development progresses in the watershed and throughout the county. Flood plain management is handled by educating developers, realtors and the general public about flood plain science. In reality, flood plain ordinances are the best tool for managing activities within this area. Henderson County's flood plain ordinance, passed in 2005, is a key achievement for the County. Upland development is addressed by providing objective, research-based information to planners and officials, residents, developers and others in an effort to facilitate discussion and assist the various players in reaching the best development decisions. NCSU trainings are aimed at developers and designers to promote Low Impact Development strategies to the greatest extent possible and land preservation is worked through the CMLC.

Pollution prevention must also be addressed. Urban and agricultural best management practices are needed in everything, from growing tomatoes to washing cars, walking the dog, and working in yards. Best Management Practices are critical for reducing the volume of contaminants that end up on the landscape and get carried by run-off to local streams. Literature and programming are aimed at target audiences to educate people in a variety of land uses about BMPs for their industry or activity. This includes seeking and administering grant funding to help implement BMPs in targeted areas.

Because stormwater run-off carries pollutants from the land to waterways, dumping contaminants on the ground, into ditches, or into storm drains is the same as dumping directly in a stream. Educating the public and specific audiences about proper waste disposal, and how to identify illegal dumping to the storm drain system is slated for attention in the near future. A regular household hazardous waste disposal program is needed in Henderson County. Currently, government water quality monitoring is carried out occasionally by the N.C. Division of Water Quality and by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Regular resident monitoring is carried out by volunteers through ECO. The Mud Creek Project is working to create a comprehensive monitoring plan to identify and fill in gaps where needed.

• Restoration -- Repairing and restoring degraded streams. Big Sweep stream clean-up and Adopt-a-Stream for are carried out by ECO. Large scale, stream restoration is carried out by EEP. Seeking and administering grant funds to carry out additional stream restoration work is done in targeted areas. The Stream Doctor Program trains local landscape professionals in best practice techniques for stabilizing eroding streambanks, and to provide cost-share assistance to homeowners to carry out such projects.

This three-prong approach is an over-arching plan of action for the Mud Creek Project, but it will take many years to achieve progress on all these fronts. The continued participation of multiple partners, and the active involvement of individuals and businesses, is critical for continued progress.

Diane Silver is the Mud Creek Watershed coordinator. For more information, call 697-4891