The News Herald Feb. 16, 2006

Plan calls for cleaner creek
'Impaired' Water From Lower Creek Feeds Into Lake Rhodhiss

By Matt Collins
Thursday, February 15, 2007

Morganton - The Burke County Board of Commissioners will discuss a plan Tuesday that recommends buffers and other regulations to protect a creek environmental planners say is suffering.

Lower Creek starts northeast of Cedar Rock in Caldwell County and runs south into Burke County and Lake Rhodhiss.

Lake Rhodhiss provides water to Valdese. The lake is also a water source for Lenoir, Gamewell and other portions of Caldwell County.

Andrea Leslie, western planner for the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program, says that the water in Lower Creek is marred, according to EPA and N.C. Division of Water Quality standards.

"For Lower Creek, the water is impaired for two reasons: turbidity, which is a measure of clarity, and aquatic life," Leslie says.

She says that aquatic life, specifically fish and aquatic invertebrates, is a gauge of the water quality. The amount of life in Lower Creek isn't where it should be, she says.

The management plan, introduced to commissioners by the N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program, recommends new rules, education and planning to manage the problem. It also includes a list of the causes and possible solutions.

The plan identifies nine recommended regulations, 10 problems and 10 possible solutions for those problems.

Recommended action:

* Develop or update stormwater laws.

* Change subdivision ordinances to promote low-impact development, which limits effects of development like runoff and pollution.

* Develop more buffer regulations. A buffer is the land next to rivers and streams usually consisting of native vegetation or forest.

* Ensure enforcement and compliance of sedimentation and erosion-control laws. When dirt flows into a stream, it can carry with it chemicals like lawn fertilizer or pesticide, which can harm aquatic life and quality of the water.

* Establish rules which would limit or ban development on steep slopes.

* Change laws to ban any development in the flood plain for the next century. When structures end up in streams during floods, it can disrupt water flow and harm plant life and aquatic life that depend on the downstream flow.

* Establish a public education plan to get the word out about the functions of streams and rivers. Education should also convey the consequences of human action and inaction regarding pollution, erosion and water quality.

n Establish a land-use and water-protection plan for the Lower Creek area to guard Lake Rhodhiss against water contamination.

10 Lower Creek problems and proposed solutions:

* Problem: Stream bank erosion.

Solution: Stream restoration, which can require keeping livestock away and replanting plants or trees to act as buffers.

* Problem: Lack of adequate buffers.

Solution: Plant vegetation, which can serve as a filter for pollutants from land and provide shade for aquatic life.

* Problem: Stream channelization, which occurs when streams become straightened. It can lead to faster water and stormwater flow, which in turn can cause flooding and erosion.

Solution: Restore natural curves to streams.

* Problem: Buildings, lots and roads make runoff worse, both by making runoff water faster and adding chemicals to the water.

Solution: Build barriers and diversions to stop runoff water. Future developers would be encouraged to use ways to minimize runoff from buildings, lots and roads.

* Problem: Erosion.

Solution: Erosion can be controlled by ordinances and by planting vegetation or trees on steep slopes.

* Problem: Livestock access to streams, which can cause stream-bank erosion and add fecal bacteria to water.

Solution: Build fencing to keep livestock away from streams and provide an alternative water source.

* Problem: Flood-plain development. Development here can hurt a stream's ability to move water downstream, which can lead to flooding.

Solution: Prohibit development in the flood plain for the next century.

* Problem: Urban toxins, including zinc, lead, petroleum-based pollutants and copper, increase toxicity of water. High levels of pollutants were found in Lenoir city water, the source of which flows downstream to Burke County. Also of significance is a landfill off of N.C. 90 that is unlined and leaking pollutants into the stream, officials say.

Solution: Put into practice a detection and elimination program, work to reduce pollutants from landfill and create ways to divert runoff from man-made surfaces like parking lots and structures.

* Problem: Nutrients in water that can lead to algae growth in Lake Rhodhiss and which affect aquatic organisms.

Solution: Educate public on issue, plant buffers and implement a detection and elimination program. Further study is needed.

* Problem: Fecal coliform bacteria, which can create health risks for swimmers and aquatic life.

Solution: Inspection and maintenance of pipes that overflow and leak into streams to reduce bacteria. Start detection and elimination program for faulty septic tanks.