Environmental Restoration in North Carolina
Natural stream and wetland functions in many areas of North Carolina are threatened by changes in watershed hydrology and land use. Environmental impacts include loss of habitat, unsafe water supplies, flooding, loss of floodplain function, increased flooding, and reservoir siltation. Causes of impairment include impoundments, diversions, urbanization, channelization, agriculture, forestry, transportation, and loss of riparian vegetation. Environmental restoration is the process of improving the conditions in and around the stream channel or wetland such that natural biological and hydrologic functions occur in stable ecosystems. Restoration project components include stream channel geometry modifications, in-stream structures, streambank stabilization, wetland excavation, water level control, vegetation planting, and riparian corridor management.
Over the past decade, natural resource agencies in North Carolina have adopted a natural channel design approach to restoring unstable streams. This approach is based on the use of regional bankfull hydraulic geometry relationships and reference stream dimension, pattern, and profile data. Permitting agencies evaluating the hydrologic, water quality, and wildlife impacts of stream restoration and mitigation projects require that designers use natural channel design approaches. These requirements have facilitated interest among many government and private organizations in learning what restoration techniques are most appropriate for local watershed conditions.
Conditions in Your Watershed
The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a directory of North Carolina (NC) river corridor and wetlands restoration projects. Also, showcase NC wetlands restorations projects are featured on a NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources Wetlands Restoration Program web page.
Resources and Programs
The North Carolina State University System provides research, education and extension resources to assist state and federal agencies, business and industry, communities and individual citizens in addressing water quality concerns. These programs are designed to provide information for specific audiences, such as farmers, homeowners and youth. Below are some key links to information and resources available to assist you.
North Carolina State University (NCSU) and North Carolina A&T State University are home to North Carolina Cooperative Extension, which develops and delivers programs designed to provide educational outreach into all counties of the state. Outreach education enables the research developed at colleges and universities and from other sources throughout the world to be interpreted and delivered to the end user, which is often a home or business owner or agricultural producer. Some of the major Extension education programs addressing environmental restoration are:
Extension personnel provide information on natural channel design applications for stream restoration at the NC Stream Restoration Institute. The goal of the Stream Restoration Institute is to improve water quality and aquatic ecology through research, demonstration projects, and education of the public. As a project is undertaken, Extension personnel conduct public meetings and media campaigns to inform the general public, elected officials, community leaders, and school children about the project and water quality in general. In addition, project personnel make many one-to-one visits to stakeholders in the watershed to inform them of project activities and address any questions or concerns they may have.
The NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources Wetlands Restoration Program manages a large mitigation program for streams, wetlands, and buffers. NC Cooperative Extension facilitates mitigation arrangements through an educational role.
Researchers at NC State University investigate and develop new technologies for stream and wetlands restoration. The NC Stream Restoration Institute web page provides links to some of these research projects. Some samples are listed below:
The East Prong Roaring River Stream Restoration Project is a collaborative effort between the NC Wetlands Restoration Program, NC Division of Parks and Recreation, and the NC Stream Restoration Institute. The project includes nearly 2 miles of stream restoration within the boundaries of the Stone Mountain State Park.
The goals of the Mitchell River Watershed Project are to permanently protect the headwater areas and riparian buffers. Project components include: stream bank restoration and installation of BMPs to improve water quality and aquatic habitat, long-term physical and biological monitoring, and the development of tools for evaluating project success.
Project components of the Watauga River Watershed Project include: 1) through land acquisition and conservation easements, to protect riparian areas and wetlands that are not degraded, 2) to improve water quality and wildlife habitat by restoring degraded streams to their natural stable form, and 3) evaluating project success.
Field and modeling studies at NCSU examine reconverting wetlands converted to agricultural fields in an effort to develop guidelines for restoring wetland hydrologic function to drained agricultural fields. Two field sites (10 ha and 18 ha) located in Beaufort and Craven Counties, NC were instrumented and monitored to evaluate the effectiveness of the restoration techniques used.
College and University Education
Youth and continuing adult education are critical to develop new talent and human resources to address the water quality issues of the future. Educational curriculum addressing environmental restoration is available through Biological and Agricultural Engineering 590Q: Water Quality Applications at NCSU and through river courses offered through the NC Stream Restoration Institute.