Town of Highlands
Strict On Sediment: Town of Highlands, North Carolina
Acting Entity: Town of Highlands
Contact Person: Larry Gantenbein
Population Served: 3,000 to 30,000
Water Supply: Reservoir, Lake Sequoya, Highlands Water Treatment Plant
PWS ID: 0157015
· Upper Cullasaja Watershed Association
· Town of Highlands Planning Board
· The town absorbed the cost as an administrative expense.
· A partnership between the town and a local non-profit made this project possible.
· The town has a Planning Board comprised of "qualified volunteers," such as architects and engineers, which reviews data on the drinking water source and makes long term planning decisions.
· Demonstrates citizens and town officials choosing to implement stringent rules to protect their source water.
Summary: Since 1993, the Town of Highlands has included a stringent sediment control plan in its Water Supply Watershed Protection (WSWP) ordinances, which is intended to keep silt and other pollutants from contaminating Lake Sequoyah and prevent runoff damage to the lake ecosystem. The town opted for the low-density option of the state regulations, which requires low-density development to maintain low impacts to the water.
The town felt obligated to use these strict regulations for two reasons. First, citizens and officials knew that stormwater runoff was going directly into Lake Sequoyah, which serves as a drinking water source, and they were concerned that this runoff could potentially pollute the drinking water. The surface drinking water sources in this area are particularly important because the well water in the area contains naturally high concentrations of sulphur and metals and is not considered potable. Second, the Highlands Plateau is home to a unique ecosystem. A wide variety of rare and endangered plants grow in this area and the high relief of the surrounding land causes erosion from developing lots to threaten these species and the town's water supply.
The adopted WSWP ordinances apply to each of the three watersheds that drain to the lake. Two of the watersheds, classified as Critical Areas, WS-II and WS-III, drain directly to the lake. The third watershed is classified as WS-III and drains indirectly to the lake. This watershed is known as the Balance of the Watershed. Since the adoption of the low-density development rules, the Town of Highlands has documented a sizeable improvement in the sediment levels in the lake. The Upper Cullasaja Watershed Association performs water quality monitoring of the river, with help from college students from the UNC-Chapel Hill Carolina Environmental Program Senior Capstone class. The association educates the public by including a biweekly newsletter, Know Your Watershed, with the Town of Highlands newspaper and by implementing a storm drain stenciling initiative.
The standards of the ordinance that the Town of Highlands enacted are listed below:
· Low Density Land Use: There are limitations on lot size and the amount of the lot that can be developed, depending on where the lot is located within the watershed. In the Balance of the Watershed, lots must be at least half an acre; in the Critical Area watershed classified as WS-III, lots must be one full acre; and in the adjacent Critical Area watershed classified as WS-II, lots must be two full acres. The downtown business district of Highlands is located in the indirectly impacting watershed and has a commercial development exception to the half-acre lot size rule.
· Stream buffer requirements: In the Balance of the Watershed, 30-foot buffers must be maintained and in the Critical Areas, 50-foot buffers must be maintained.
· Construction Best Management Practices: All construction on any type of grade must use silt fences on the site as well as restore the groundcover as soon as the project is complete.
· Impoundment: Mandate that owners of properties with ponds must notify the Watershed Administrator at least 30 days before draining the impoundment. Depending on the size of the impoundment to be drained, engineering studies to determine the potential for excessive sediment runoff may be required and the Watershed Administrator may require onsite monitoring of sediment levels while the impoundment is being drained. Penalties for not complying with this ordinance can be as high as $50,000.
· Education: The town offers a certification course to teach contractors how to develop a lot without clear-cutting all the timber and how to control sediment runoff during the clearing process through the entire project. The course is taught by the Watershed Administrator.