Stream of Consciousness

Article Published: Nov. 25, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Stream of Consciousness

A riparian buffer was installed last year at Brookshire Park in Boone to help ensure river sustainability.

Photo by Jason Reagan

In a legal decision hailed by environmentalists, the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled against the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources regarding stream protection.

The court decision last week ruled that a golf course constructed at Mountain Air Country Club in Yancey County violated state buffer requirements. The original challenge was filed by two people who lived downstream from the golf course, and the non-profit Clean Water For North Carolina, all represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The court's decision clarifies the limits on the discretion of state regulators in considering requests from developers to remove streamside vegetation and enclose streams in pipes, activities that are not temporary or minimal and thus not permissible in trout buffers, according to the Court of Appeals.

The challenge came after DENR approved a variance to the buffer requirements that allowed the golf course to alter 2,700 feet of a stream on the property and be exempt from certain buffer restrictions designed to protect water quality.

Lynn Caldwell, who operates the River Builder program for the National Committee of the New River, said she wasn't familiar with the specifics of the case but said streams needed buffers not just to protect trout habitat but overall water quality as well.

Caldwell said proper riparian buffers hold soil together with root mass, filter runoff of pollutants and sediment and provide cool shade with their canopy to help enhance trout habitat. The plant material in native buffers provides food for aquatic wildlife and creates a health stream ecosystem.

The River Builder program worked with Jefferson Landing in Ashe County two years ago to add trees to a natural buffer already left in place on the resort's golf course.

"Jefferson Landing is maintaining a pretty good buffer over most of their creek," Caldwell said. "We planted it over two years ago. They had already left it unmown and we went in and added woody vegetation from there. They're very proud of it."

According to the SELC, numerous studies show that vegetated buffers prevent sedimentation and warming of mountain streams, which in their natural state run cold and clear. The trout buffer requirement was enacted because trout require clean, cold water and are therefore vulnerable to buffer loss due to streamside developments.

Caldwell said any developer or private landowner who wants help with restoring stream banks can call the National Committee for the New River. "That is the whole purpose of our River Builder program, to replace riparian buffers that, for whatever reason, are lost," Caldwell said.

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