Buffalo Creek Watershed to receive several improvements

By Megan R. Harrell

Star Staff
mharrell@starhq.com

   Some concerned citizens have taken one local water resource's future into their own hands. The Buffalo Creek Watershed Alliance (BCWA) was formed over a year ago in an attempt to improve the quality of water and the ecology of Buffalo Creek.
  The BCWA is a subsidiary of the Boon Watershed Partnership which includes Bristol, Johnson City, Bluff City, and Elizabethton. The organization is operated and partially funded by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Ken Chase, chairman of the Boon Watershed Partnership, works closely with the TVA to secure funding for improvements in the Buffalo Creek Watershed.
   "It is our goal to promote the care of the Buffalo Creek Watershed and like with all watershed projects, we like to address water quality," Chase said. "It is a partnership of many different state and local agencies as well as stake holders."
   Still in its infancy, the alliance's mission is to use state and local resources to make lasting improvements in the local watershed. The Buffalo Creek Watershed headwaters in Unicoi county and drains into the Watauga River. It is approximately 38 square miles and encompasses 24,147 acres in the region.
   The BCWA is slated to benefit from a portion of the $100,000 North American Corporation has paid in damages to Watauga River and its tributaries as a result of its fire in 1998. The funding will go toward stream bank stabilization and habitat improvements in the watershed.
   Chairman of the BCWA, Garry Barrigar hopes the organization and community will maximize on the opportunity the funding affords them. "It is not very often you have access to the potential to complete this kind of work that improves streams," Barrigar said.
   This week, Barrigar asked members of the alliance and residents from the Buffalo Creek Watershed for their input in deciding where to utilize the funds. Several areas along Buffalo Creek have been earmarked as needing improvement. The alliance is not releasing the exact locations of the potential project sites until all land owners have been notified, and give their consent.
   Two areas in Stoney Creek are among those that have been pinpointed by the alliance as needing attention. With run off from animal fecal matter at the top of the watershed's list of pressing ecological issues, building up a cattle stream crossing in Stoney Creek will most likely be among the projects completed with the North American funding.
   The second project in the Stoney Creek community involves adding textile matting and gravel to an area used heavily by cattle. The project would help to prevent fecal matter washing into a near by stream.
   Local ecologists believe the projects will go a long way toward improving the overall quality of Buffalo Creek, which has had poor water test results in the past.
   "It is like getting lemonade from a lemon," Chase said. "We had the North American Fire, and now with this money we will be able to improve water quality that will make a lasting improvement to the watershed."
   In addition to the improvement projects, the BCWA is working toward expanding a litter cleanup project on Buffalo Creek. Chase and Barrigar would like to see more school and local agency involvement in the alliance's annual attempt to clear the creek from garbage.
   Barrigar recognizes that the cleanup itself does not provide an immediate solution to a litter problem along the creek, but he believes it goes a long way toward changing overall attitudes.
   "It tells people in the community that you have that stream litter free, and it prevents them from littering into it in the future," Barrigar said. "The public has to be educated that this is not the way we want to deal with our garbage anymore."