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High Rock Lake — too much rain lately

By Joyce Caron-Mercier
Your Rowan

It’s spring, I get it. But enough with the rain already Mother Nature! How much more can we use? High Rock Lake is full. I do not have a beach any longer.

So, what is going on and what happens with all that water falling from the sky, coming down from the Yadkin River and runoff from our developed lands? I asked a few folks in the know that make it their business to ensure we have good-quality water and soil for generations to come.

First, I wanted to get an actual gauge on how much rain we have received this first quarter of 2021. And there is no better way than to reach out to our very own Rowan County Weather, Chief Forecaster Steve Monday.

“To this point in the year, we are about five inches above normal for rainfall. The impacts of erosion on the shoreline depend on a few things. If flood waters run downstream from the mountains and into our lakes, rivers, and streams, the rushing water can erode the shoreline as it passes by. However, with heavy torrential downpours over the county, we could experience that same erosion. This can also cause sediment to load from stormwater runoff and rising water levels to do major damage to the eco systems around our waterways. This can threaten fish, invertebrates and aquatic vegetation,” Monday said.

Lately, there is a growing concern with the higher-than-normal lake levels spilling into smaller creeks, such as Panther Creek on Bringle Ferry Road. With some potential flooding outside of the Yadkin River Basin, Monday says, “It certainly is possible as this is how water flows into the ocean. Water flows downstream from the mountains into lakes, rivers, and streams until it reaches the ocean. If the water moves in faster than our rivers, lakes, and streams can handle then flooding around the waterway is likely to occur.”

What can High Rock Lake residents do to assist with the possible erosion?

“A few things come to mind. Residents can shore up the shore. Stacking large rocks side by side along the shore can help prevent erosion. Although planting natural vegetation along the shoreline is best and can help as the plants root system can tighten up the shoreline. Lastly, keeping large animals away from the shoreline. Large animals stomping around the shoreline can break the soil and dirt apart causing it to fall in the water. This slowly speeds up the erosion process. One way many areas try to avoid this is by installing fencing along wooded areas along the shoreline to keep larger animals from walking in that area. Erosion typically takes a long time to occur. However, by taking time to prevent erosion you can make the process take even longer to occur,” explained Monday.

Kelli Isenhour with Rowan County Soil and Water Commission echoed that vegetation is the solution to getting in front of erosion on our properties and recreational areas. “One of the best things landowners can do to prevent erosion is to maintain as much vegetation as possible on their land. A clear view of the creek, river, or lake is great, but when you cut down all the trees and shrubs for a better view and plant a lawn right up to the edge — you are inviting erosion problems. The roots of trees, perennials, native grasses, and shrubs all help soak up the water and act as a physical barrier to slow the water and keep soil in place. Many native plants and grasses have extremely long roots that, once established, work very well to help stabilize the soil.

Even bare soil that is simply covered with straw, or mulch helps prevent erosion,” continued Isenhour.

Many of Rowan County’s farmers implement best management practices to conserve soil and protect our waterways. Planting a cover crop after a harvest is one such method. The additional crop not only helps preserve the soil, but it also adds nutrients back to the soil when it is time to plant the main crop. Cover crops can be utilized by the home gardener too. Soil and Water Conservation Districts offer technical assistance and, in some cases, cost share money, to help farmers keep their soil in place and protect our local waterways.

Conservation for all of us

I spoke with Travis Morehead, executive director of Three Rivers Land Trust (TRLT) based right here in Salisbury. “In order to improve or even maintain the current water quality in the Yadkin River and associated lakes, land owners should consider how their property and its use impacts the situation,” Morehead said. “One way to permanently protect the water quality of our rivers and streams is by permanently conserving properties with a conservation easement. Conservation easements are a voluntary agreement between the landowner and TRLT that limits the future development of properties. In our 26-year history, we have permanently conserved over 300 miles of stream and river corridors in the central Piedmont and sandhills.”

Just a few weeks ago, TRLT announced the conservation of a 35-acre property located in Rowan County, purchased from the Crowther Family in February 2021. This new conservation property builds off an additional 1,400 acres owned by TRLT and known as their Two Rivers Property.

This new conservation land is located near the confluence of the South Yadkin and Yadkin rivers and consists of mature hardwoods which are home to a variety of wildlife, including neotropical migratory songbirds. This site provides important connectivity for wildlife as it builds upon a large base of already protected land.

Earlier this year, TRLT transferred a 10-acre property with a boating access area to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) which is named in honor of the Crowther family.

For more information on TRLT, go to threeriverslandtrust.org

How is the lake level regulated?

With all the rainfall this spring, how does Cube Hydro Carolinas handle the influx of rainwater from the river up north?

The High Rock powerhouse is integral with the dam and is located immediately downstream of the intake structure. The powerhouse contains three vertical Francis turbine units directly connected to generators. High Rock produces a long-term average generation of 141,660 megawatt-hours of clean electricity per year, enough to power 13,621 homes. High Rock Lake is operated to keep water levels within 4 feet of full pond between April 1 to Oct. 31; and within 10 feet of full pond between Nov. 1 and March 31. The average expected lake level during our “recreation season” is projected to be approximately 2½ feet below full pond.

Education for and safety of our waterways

The Yadkin Riverkeeper’s (YRK) goals are to ensure clean drinking water and a healthy, safe Yadkin River for the benefit of all the basin’s nearly 3 million residents.

The YRK educates and informs its membership and the public about the importance of the Yadkin River to our region’s economy and environment. While monitoring and sampling the river and feed lakes for pollution, it also alerts officials and the public about threats to our waterways.

North Carolina’s rapid population growth, particularly in the Triad region, is having a profound impact on the Yadkin River. This unprecedented growth impacts local drinking water supplies driving up treatment costs.

I asked Brian Fannon, Ph.D., Yadkin Riverkeeper, how homeowners can be good stewards of our environment, no matter where you live.

Fannon shared two rules of thumb:

  1. If it does not need to be cut, do not cut it.
  2. If there is not something growing, plant something. Preferably a native plant.

“Planting or keeping trees and shrubs along the shoreline will slow down erosion,” Fannon said. “This is a positive pursuit any landowner can engage in. Living on the lake or not, having vegetation is the best activity that collectively we can make for a huge difference over time. You will see your shoreline change, for the better.

“Many lake residents want to cut down trees to enhance their lake views. The best way to keep your view and shoreline is to have a plan before you start removing trees, simply by adding low ‘shrubby’ plants such as willows, silky dogwoods, and elderberry. These small native plants can be trimmed for lake views, all the while being the best erosion defense with a good, solid root system. Native plants are also an important part of our ecosystem, providing food and shelter for bees, birds, and small animals.

“We have so much impervious areas adjacent to our bodies of water such as parking lots and buildings, we need vegetation and trees to slow down the water and rain runoff. Plants are nine times out of 10 the better choice as they take care of themselves. Many folks opt for rocks to shore up their banks however, rocks still need maintenance and can shift with storms and high water.”

For more information, go to yadkinriverkeeper.org .

And mark your calendars for these upcoming events that need you as volunteers and donors:

Bridge Clean Up/Earth Day, April 17-18, Rowan County Creek Week, Aug. 21-28, and High Rock Lake Clean Sweep Sept. 18.

Enjoy the lake and all that it has to offer.

Joyce Caron-Mercier is secretary on the board of directors for the High Rock Lake Association. Contact her at highrock@YourRowan.com

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