Plan addresses flooding and pollution along South Fork River

MCADENVILLE, N.C. — As the region around it develops, the South Fork River Basin faces increasing erosion and pollution. Meanwhile, neighbors along the river have suffered flooding and the impacts of runoff upstream.

In response, the South Fork Collective, made up of municipalities in the region, business leaders and environmental groups came up with the South Fork Catawba River Sub-Basin Restoration and Protection Plan.

According to Brandon Jones, the Catawba Riverkeeper, the plan, made possible through a $65,000 grant from the NC Land and Water Fund, focuses both on pollution and flood mitigation, identifying both point source pollution and nonpoint source issues that spike after massive rainfalls.

“We can do things to mitigate that by decreasing the amount of that water that comes in,” he said.

One major issue is sediment from its eroding riverbeds.

With increased development around the region, particularly in Gaston County, more of the land has been covered in impervious surfaces, things like concrete, roofs, and asphalt, that prevent water from seeping into the ground.

During big rainfall events, that water runs off quickly into the river, causing it to swell up quickly, further eroding its banks. The soil it takes then filters out on its journey downstream, filling in coves and boat launches.

“We don’t want all of Lincoln County to end up in Lake Wylie,” Jones said. “All this dirt that fills in the bottom of the stream like that, we’re losing habitat.”

Along with the sediment, Jones said his foundation’s water quality monitoring has also found high concentrations of harmful bacteria after big rainfall events, implying that water is also carrying fecal runoff from the sewers, cattle, and poultry farms upstream.

“If you were to go out there and swim there’s an elevated risk that you would get sick,” he said.

The plan recommends 22 different projects along the river to address some of these concerns ranging from dam removal, to restoring stream banks, to excavating a site with hundreds of abandoned tires in the water.

Jones said it’s also important to avoid any development in the flood plain around the river clear besides greenspace and to maintain a 100-foot green buffer around the river and its creeks.

“We can actually decrease the amount of stormwater that flows into our creeks by just giving it a chance to infiltrate in and go as groundwater,” he said.

Jones said physical work on some of the projects suggested in the plan will get underway in the spring as the weather warms up, but the plan is meant to be a long-term living document.

“There’s no quick fixes, unfortunately,” he said. “It’s going to take a long time.”

(WATCH >> RAW VIDEO: High South Fork River Rushes Under Bridge)

Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.