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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

West Virginia Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III

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The North Fork Project:
Farmers' Cooperation Leads to Proposed Delisting of Degraded River


Lyle Bennett
NPS Program Manager
Office of Water Resources
1201 Greenbrier Street
Charleston, WV 25311
Primary Sources of Pollution:


streambank erosion


Primary NPS Pollutants:

fecal coliform bacteria

Project Activities:

critical area planting

streambank fencing

feedlot relocation

nutrient management plans

340 acres under nutrient management plans

85 percent agricultural landowner participation rate
The North Fork Project illustrates a successful multiagency partnership approach to solving a water quality problem on a scenic high-quality trout stream in the rural Potomac Headwaters area. As a result of the implementation of numerous best management practices (BMPs) funded under several federal and state programs, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture is now proposing that the North Fork River be removed (delisted) from the list of impaired water bodies in West Virginia.

The North Fork of the South Branch Potomac River watershed is in Pendleton and Grant Counties in West Virginia; a portion of the watershed is in Highland County, Virginia. The area within the watershed is predominantly forested, with agriculture as the second dominant land use. Beef and poultry enterprises are the main agricultural activities. Because of the rugged nature of the terrain, many of the concentrated livestock feeding areas and poultry operations were located on the narrow valley bottoms and floodplains adjacent to the streams. High levels of bacteria and sediment loading were adversely affecting both the North Fork and South Branch watersheds. A U.S. Geological Survey surface water study found that the numbers of feedlots and poultry houses per square mile had a positive correlation with concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria in surface streams. Based on the South Branch Potomac watershed Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) allocations, the North Fork required a 35 percent reduction in fecal coliform bacteria loading from agricultural land to meet West Virginia's water quality standards.

The Potomac Headwaters area historically has produced beef cattle, forages, timber, and some corn and apples; since the early 1990s, however, the area has seen a significant increase in the poultry industry. In 1993 this area became a component of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Water Quality Initiative, a cooperative effort of federal, state, and local agencies to address water quality issues. In January 1997 a Public Law 534 Land Treatment Watershed cost-share program was initiated in the upper Potomac River Basin to address the structural and technical needs of the area farmers in order to improve water quality and protect the associated natural resources of the area.

In March 2000 the North Fork Watershed Association launched a section 319 project to address bacteria and sediment problems associated with agricultural activities, past timbering operations, streambank erosion, and road maintenance activities. Partners in developing the plan included the Potomac Valley Soil Conservation District, West Virginia Soil Conservation Agency, West Virginia University Extension Service, West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection (DEP), West Virginia Division of Forestry, West Virginia Division of Highways, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Trout Unlimited. The West Virginia Agriculture Water Quality Loan Program, funded through the DEP Clean Water Act State Revolving Fund, also provided complementary low-interest loans (2 percent) to landowners to help finance BMP installation.

Implementing multiple BMPs

To date, 12 agricultural 319 projects, one forestry 319 project, and 19 PL-534 projects/contracts have been implemented in the North Fork watershed to control nonpoint source pollution. A range of BMPs have been established to control runoff from feedlots and to eliminate or reduce cattle's access to the streams. These BMPs include installing streambank fencing, relocating feedlots away from streams, constructing roofs over concentrated feeding areas, controlling roof runoff, establishing filter strips, establishing riparian buffers, developing alternative livestock watering facilities, drilling livestock water wells, and stabilizing critical eroding areas.

Rotational grazing systems with intra-pasture fencing systems and alternative watering facilities have been established to improve the conditions of pastures, reduce runoff, and control bacterial, sediment, and nutrient pollution. To control or eliminate runoff from the poultry operations, poultry litter storage sheds, waste composting facilities, and mortality composters have been constructed and buffer/filter strips have been established. In addition, nutrient management plans have been developed and implemented for more than 340 acres of cropland and pastureland receiving animal manure.

In cooperation with West Virginia Division of Forestry, educational workshops are being held to educate landowners and people in the forestry industry on conservation practices. West Virginia foresters are developing forestry plans to promote logging conservation and BMPs. One severely eroded, steep hillside site has been planted with trees and fenced for livestock exclusion as part of a reforestation project.

Another component of the North Fork Project has included working with the West Virginia Division of Highways (DOH) to implement a variety of conservation practices, including a seeding demonstration using poultry litter as a fertilizer, a sediment erosion control workshop for DOH employees, and the selection of a site on DOH property for the construction of a poultry mortality composting facility.

A West Virginia University research project associated with the North Fork project has selected a site to test whether acid mine drainage (AMD) sludge, high in iron oxides, can be applied in buffer strips to absorb soluble phosphorus before it enters waterways. If results are favorable, AMD waste from the nearby coal mining region can be used to reduce phosphorus pollution from excessive manure in the poultry-producing region of the state.

Receptive agricultural community

The agricultural community within the watershed has been extremely receptive: 85 percent of the farmers have participated in BMP implementation. Based on recent water quality monitoring results and the extent of BMPs installed, it is being proposed that the North Fork River be delisted from the 303(d) list of impaired waters in West Virginia.

Ongoing and future projects and activities

Future projects will emphasize wetland and riparian corridor restoration. Working in cooperation with Trout Unlimited, stream channel restoration projects using natural stream channel design technology are being planned to address stream erosion and sedimentation problems. One site for a stream restoration project has been selected near the Seneca Rocks scenic area, and design plans are being developed. An educational display about the watershed is planned for the Seneca Rocks Visitors Center in the Monongahela National Forest. Educational programs for landowners on stream channel protection and maintenance are planned, and water quality monitoring by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture is continuing.

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