Richland Creek is currently impaired for recreation due to high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, which is used as an indicator of the possible presence of blood borne pathogens. Portions of the creek are also impaired for biological integrity. Populations of benthic macroinvertebrates and fish are not as diverse or numerous as expected in certain sections of the creek. The Haywood Waterways Association has partnered with the Division of Water Quality (DWQ), WaDE (Waste Discharge Elimination Program- no longer exists), Town of Waynesville, NC Wildlife Resources, EEP (Ecosystem Enhancement Program), NC Natural Heritage Program, NC Stormwater Program, NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, Tennessee Valley Authority, Southwestern RC&D Council, Haywood Soil and Water Conservation District, and NCDOT to restore water quality in the Richland Creek watershed.
Following direction in the Pigeon River Watershed Plan and plans associated with smaller watersheds within Pigeon River watershed (i.e., Richland Creek), the project partners have implemented multiple management measures to reduce sediment, fecal coliform bacteria, and nutrient loadings from poor riparian buffers, eroding streambanks, livestock operations, private residences, leaking and overflowing sewer systems and stormwater. Management measures include planting riparian vegetation; constructing fences, feed/waste structures, alternative water sources, designated stream crossings, stormwater controls; and the establishment of conservation easements. The WaDE worked with homeowners, the Haywood County Health Department and the Division of Water Quality to identify homes with failing or inadequate septic systems. Many required simple repairs, but management measures have included larger items such as the construction of drain fields and standard systems. Through these efforts, it is estimated that between 940 to 1540 gallons of household wastewater per day was removed from the watershed. HWA and DWQ also worked with the Town of Waynesville who investigated their sanitary sewer collection system and found and repaired several leaks greatly reducing input of fecal coliform into waterways.
Management measures have been implemented throughout Richland Creek watershed, but particular attention has been focused on Hyatt Creek and Shelton Branch sub-watersheds. As a result of these efforts, fecal coliform concentrations have been significantly reduced and the benthic and fish communities have rebounded. Although the fish community has greatly improved, some species are absent and will not recover due to Lake Junaluska acting as a barrier to migration. DWQ biologists are reintroducing several species of native fish to the upper reaches of Richland Creek in Haywood County - a testament to improvements in the creek's water quality and habitat. Thousands of rock bass, warpaint shiners, river chubs, Tuckasegee and greenfin darters and mottled sculpins were first released in April 2011 to waters upstream of the Lake Junaluska dam. They are now able to populate waters that were once too polluted to support them. Twice a year, spring and fall, DWQ biologists will be collecting native fish from downstream areas and reintroducing them upstream. After two years or reintroductions, BAU staff will conduct an initial assessment of the repopulation effort at the end of 2012. Once the population establishes itself, DWQ will continue to monitor the fish populations every five years at a minimum.