Henderson County

Capital Investment for the Environment

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Acting Entity: Henderson County Department of Soil and Water
Contact Person: Tom Burnet
Cost: $1,352,000
Population Served: 120,000

Water Supply: Mills River Regional Water Authority, City of Hendersonville
PWS ID: 0111010

Helping Organizations:
· Mills River Partnership including the following organizations:
· Henderson County Department of Soil and Water
· Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy
· City of Hendersonville
· Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson
· Henderson Council
· Land-of-Sky Regional Council (helped with grant applications)
· US Forest Service
· City of Asheville
· Buncombe County
· Community and Citizens of Mills River
· North Carolina Forest Service
· UNC Asheville- Environmental Quality Institute
· Voluntary Water Information Network (VWIN) Program (has sites in Mills River watershed)
· North Carolina Land and Water Fund
· NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources; Asheville Regional Office
· Mountain Valley RC&D
· Cross Creek Foundation
· Trout Unlimited

Funding Sources:

· $541,000 from North Carolina Land and Water Fund to Regional Water Authority for agrochemical handling facilities, riparian buffers, streambank stabilization, Forest Service projects and Management Plan.
· $115,000 matching funds from Regional Water Authority for agrochemical handling facilities.
· $191,000 from North Carolina Land and Water Fund to Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy for riparian conservation easements.
· $450,000 from DWQ Section 319 Grants Program to Regional Water Authority to extend and expand project from main stem and two forks of Mills River to include the tributaries.
· $55,000 from EPA to Land of Sky Regional Council for hazardous material spill control, erosion and sediment control, training workshops for contractors, stormwater control workshop for developers, land conversion, and landowner education.

· This project is continuing.
· Water rights issues are sensitive and many parties were involved in negotiating the fate of Mills River's resources. The sensitivity of these issues require that local community leadership be involved throughout the process and in any decisions.
· Many varied approaches, including one-on-one work with willing landowners, agrochemical handling facilities, conservation easements, alternative cattle watering systems and stream stabilization/restoration were implemented.
· This project leveraged a variety of funding sources.

Summary: The water resources in the Mills River watershed historically have been considered pristine.  All of the public water supply intakes were located in either National Forests or undeveloped areas. When the Regional Water Authority sited a fourth intake in the watershed, there was public concern about the water quality because of the potential for runoff from surrounding agricultural lands. One example of potentially contaminated runoff is found in the use of pesticides on many tomato production farms in the water supply watershed.

Students from University of North Carolina at Asheville performed biomonitoring studies that revealed poor water quality. Based on this information, the Department of Environment and Natural Resource's Asheville Regional Office performed several follow-up studies. While these studies did not find the presence of pesticides, it confirmed low benthic macro invertebrate counts, which suggests poor water quality. The Mills River Partnership was formed to address water quality issues and held open meetings, welcoming input from interested parties.

The community was divided on how to implement solutions to the identified water quality concerns. Some wanted more land conservation, while others did not want the government involved in landowner activities. There was some existing tension in the community concerning external involvement in the management of Mills River resources. In addition, the media was raising public concerns about pesticides.

One response to an identified issue, the location of agrochemical handling facilities, was to site these facilities away from streams and rivers in order to allow farmers to handle chemicals at a safe distance from drinking water sources. Henderson County had initiated this practice and other counties adopted this system.

The Partnership sought financing from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund but was originally turned down. They prepared a new application consisting of four elements:

· Construction of additional agrochemical handling facilities for tomato and other vegetable farmers in the watershed
· Streambank stabilization
· Riparian buffers
· Conservation easements

The program stated that these projects would take place on a voluntary basis on individual landowner's properties. As an incentive, the work would be completed free of charge to the landowner.

This time, North Carolina Land and Water Fund awarded the grant in two parts. The Regional Water Authority of Asheville/Buncombe/Henderson received $540,000 to pay for agrochemical handling facilities and the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy received $191,000 to place conservation easements on riparian buffers. The Regional Water Authority then provided money to the United States Forest Service for two additional elements of the project: repairing degraded campsites near streams and creating a management plan for Mills River which would address current water quality issues.

The focus of the project has been education and outreach to individual landowners. This has proven effective as well as challenging. Overall, the project goal is to improve and then maintain the water quality in the Mills River watershed.

To date, one agrochemical handling facility was built, and other funds allocated to the agrochemical handling facility facet of the program were used to initiate a project with cattle farmers, to build feed-waste structures for cows to obtain food and water away from streams. Other practices- such as providing watering tanks and fencing to keep cattle out of small streams; restoration and preservation of riparian buffers; conservation easements; and eventually streambank restoration- are all included with this project. One feed-waste structure is completed and ground breaking on another structure will begin soon.

In the other elements of the Mills River plan, four streambank stabilizations and one riparian buffer project have been completed to date, and one conservation easement is nearly complete. Another element has also been initiated. 10 miles of logging roads have been stabilized on a 950-acre private tract adjoining the National Forest. The deadline for the Regional Water Authority grant has been extended to September of 2003.

A recent $55,000 grant from EPA will be used to enhance the Mills River Project by including the following activites:
· Hazardous spill control, particularly on highways that cross Mills River
· Erosion and sediment control fact sheets for homeowners and contractors
· Training workshops for land development contractors
Stormwater control workshops for developers on stormwater principles and practices
· Landowner education and participation for citizens and local officials (through Mills
River Newsletter, Water Treatment Plant tours, BMP demonstration tours and the Kids in the Creek Program)