News: CJ Exclusives

River Buffer Rules Go Into Effect

Catawba River and lakes come under new rules, but streams do not

Water-quality regulations that preserve the pollutant removal functions of existing waterside buffers along parts of the Catawba River and chain lakes became permanent Aug. 1.
The measures apply to Lake James, Lake Rhodiss, Lake Hickory, Lookout Shoals Lake, Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake, and Lake Wylie, as well as the free-flowing sections of the Catawba River below Lake James. They replace the temporary Catawba riparian buffer protection and mitigation rules that have been in effect since June 30, 2001.

The rules, which were approved by the Environmental Management Commission, were developed through a process that involved stakeholder groups and multiple public hearings. They establish requirements for protection and management of a 50-foot wide riparian buffer directly adjacent to surface waters along the Catawba River below Lake James and along the “mainstem” lakes from Lake James to the South Carolina border. The rules do not apply to the tributary streams that feed into the mainstem lakes and river.

Riparian buffers are forested or vegetated strips of land along streams, rivers, and lakes. They provide a wide range of functions that aid the protection of water quality, the Division of Water Quality said.

Exempt activities are uses that are allowed inside the buffer as long as they are designed, constructed, and maintained to minimize soil disturbance and provide as much water-quality protection as possible. For example, thinning underbrush, shrubs, low limbs, and trees that are less than 3 inches in diameter to create a view corridor to a lake is exempt .

Allowable activities may proceed if there are no practical alternatives, disturbance to the buffer is minimized, and prior written authorization is given by DWQ, or by a local government with an approved buffer protection ordinance. A greenway hiking trail is an example of an allowable activity.

“Allowable with mitigation” activities may proceed if there are no practical alternatives, if prior written authorization has been given, and a mitigation strategy has been approved by DWQ or another delegated authority. Boat ramps that exceed 10 feet in width are examples of activities that are allowable with mitigation.