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Some sections along the South Fork of the New River have been identified as having
impaired water quality for macroinvertebrate organisms.
Anna Oakes | Watauga Democrat

Originally published: 2012-02-23 13:34:47
Last modified: 2012-02-23 13:40:51

Waterways 'impaired'

by Anna Oakes

Five rivers and creeks in Watauga County are classified as impaired for aquatic life by the North Carolina Division of Water Quality.

Every two years, DWQ updates its list of impaired waterways as required by the federal Clean Water Act. 

DWQ is accepting public comment on the draft list through March 12, and comments will be used to develop strategies for decreasing pollution in impaired waters.

“The 2012 list shows that about one-third of the waters assessed in the Tar Heel State have at least one impairment due to factors such as stormwater runoff,” according to a Feb. 16 DWQ news release. 

Waterways are considered impaired when they do not meet water quality standards or do not support uses such as swimming, shellfish harvesting, drinking water supply or aquatic life.

In Watauga County, four waterways in the New River Basin are identified as impaired for aquatic life: the South Fork of the New River, the Middle Fork South Fork of the New River, the East Fork South Fork of the New River and Cobb Creek. One waterway in the Watauga River Basin is identified as impaired for aquatic life: Beaverdam Creek.

DWQ biologists collect samples at various waterway sites throughout the state and assess them based on various criteria, including biological integrity (or bioclassification). Biological integrity is the ability of an aquatic ecosystem to support and maintain a balanced and indigenous community of organisms similar to that of reference conditions. Five bioclassifications are assigned: excellent, good, good-fair, fair and poor.

Waterways are assessed as impaired for aquatic life when a fish or benthic macroinvertebrate (aquatic insects, crustaceans, molluscs and aquatic worms) community sample received a bioclassification of poor or fair or, in the case of Cobb Creek, when the waterway receives a different water quality standard violation. 

According to the 2012 DWQ list of impaired waterways, Cobb Creek received a violation for turbidity levels, or cloudiness of the water.

Sites on the South Fork, East Fork South Fork and Middle Fork South Fork of the New River were rated as impaired because they received a fair bioclassification for benthic macroinvertebrates.

The 2009 DWQ biological assessment for the New River Basin noted that samples collected from the Middle Fork South Fork New River and the East Fork South Fork New River were near the confluence of the two forks and that both sites are adjacent to the Boone Golf Course.

Two separate sites on the South Fork of the New River in Boone are rated as impaired: one from Winkler's Creek to 0.1 miles downstream of Hunting Hills Lane and another from 0.1 miles downstream of Hunting Hills Lane to U.S. 221/421, which is downstream of Boone's Jimmy Smith Wastewater Treatment Plant, the assessment noted.

“The 2008 sample is dominated by taxa that are pollution-tolerant,” the assessment stated about this site. “This watershed is also heavily agricultural. Overall habitat quality here is low and has been since at least 2003.”

Beaverdam Creek was rated as impaired because of a poor bioclassification for fish communities. However, the poor bioclassification is based on a 2004 sample; a sample was taken in 2008 but was not rated, according to the DWQ 2009 biological assessment for the Watauga River Basin. 

“Although this site exhibits excellent quality habitats, the watershed continues to be influenced by agriculture,” the assessment stated. “The poor fish bioclassification received in 2004 may have resulted from an atypical, high gradient sampled stream reach or the extent of adjacent agricultural land use just upstream.”

DWQ has between eight and 13 years to develop a plan for impaired waterways, said Jennifer Everett of DWQ. The plan identifies the sources of the pollution and determines how much pollution should be reduced to protect the stream's water quality.

Comment on the Impaired Waterways List
To view the list of impaired waters in North Carolina, visit and download the draft 303(d) list from the menu at right.

To comment on the 2012 list, send written comments to: Jennifer Everett; N.C. Division of Water Quality Planning Section; 1617 Mail Service Center; Raleigh, NC 27699-1617 or email Everett at (