Water quality, loss of habitat and chronic flooding on land surrounding North Carolina’s largest naturally formed lake are some of the key problems addressed in the final watershed restoration plan. The draft was submitted last week to the State Division of Water Resources for final review and approval.
Over the course of 18 months, Hyde County, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State Wildlife Resources Commission, the North Carolina Coastal Federation and residents and farmers who live in the watershed helped create the plan for Lake Mattamuskeet.
“[We’re] working to get the lake back to health so that people can continue to fish and enjoy the recreational aspects of it as well as continue to live and farm around the perimeter of the lake,” said coastal scientist with the North Carolina Coastal Federation Erin Fleckenstein.
The lake is considered unhealthy and fails to meet state standards for chlorophyll-a or pH. In 2016, it was listed as an impaired waterbody by the State Department of Environmental Quality. Fleckenstein said algal blooms have increased over the past decade.
“Trying to understand how we can improve water quality in the lake from different land based management actions that might help reduce nutrients that cause the algal blooms is one strategy that’s being explored, said Fleckenstein.”
In addition to water quality concerns, Lake Mattamuskeet is devoid of submerged aquatic grasses, which provide habitat for fish and crabs and food for migratory waterfowl. The lake is part of the bird migration route, The Atlantic Flyway, and provides resting and feeding ground for waterfowl. The final management plan recommends re-establishing aquatic vegetation once nutrient loads are reduced. Fleckenstein said the plan also outlines how project partners plan to address flooding, which is happening more frequently and for longer stretches of time.
“The residents and farmers around the lake also experience periods of flooding without any ability to manage the water and so that was exasperating problems for residents and impacting the way of life in Hyde County.”
Before water management actions can take place, Fleckenstein said project partners need to refine their understanding of how water moves in the watershed.
“One of the ideas that we’re exploring is redirecting water into restored wetlands so that we would have both water quality improvements as well as water management. So continuing to identify where the water could move to and making sure that the water quality benefits and the water management are well thought out is some other research and work that needs to be done before we can move forward with any on-the-ground implementation.”
The final watershed restoration plan identifies six key objectives and dozens of actions that can be taken to restore water quality and clarity, minimize flooding of residential, business and farm properties, and protect the way of life in Hyde County. The voluntary plan allows stakeholders to identify actions they are willing to take to improve water quality. Approval of the plan will allow project partners to seek state, federal and private sources of funding to begin restoration actions.
"Lake Mattamuskeet is the heart of Hyde County... it's an important place both from a natural standpoint as well as a cultural standpoint," said Fleckenstein. "Stakeholders are committed to moving [the plan] forward, so we're going to keep moving ahead while we wait for the plan approval."