Haw River Watershed Information
The Haw River Watershed is located in the Piedmont Region of North Carolina. It covers land in ten counties and makes up the northern portion of the Cape Fear River Basin.
Counties associated with the Haw River Watershed:
Two natural springs in Forsyth County serve as the headwaters for the Haw River. In an attempt to preserve and safeguard the River the headwaters were protected by the Piedmont Land Conservancy, Haw River Assembly, and Clean Water Management Trust Fund in 1999. In its entirety the Haw RIver watershed is 1,526 square miles. The 110 mile long river and 920 miles of tributaries provide freshwater for residential and industrial use, a source of transportation, recreation uses and irreplaceable wildlife habitat.
Historically the Haw River was home to textile mills and agricultural lands. As a result, unregulated chemical dumping created unsafe water resources for North Carolina residents. With the passage of the Clean Water Act, wastewater was regulated bettering the quality of the Haw River; however it is still in jeopardy.
The Haw River basin has been used for multiple purposes including:
• Forest Lands: 43%
• Agricultural (crop and pasture): 27%
• Urban Development: 17.4%
• Other: 13%
Haw River Population Implications
The Haw River is home to over 600,000 people, greater than 10 percent of the state’s population. Growth in Alamance, Chatham, and Guilford has been in the upper 20th percentile over the past ten years and only continues to increase. Unregulated storm water runoff from residential and industrial communities enters the Haw River from multiple large municipalities including:
- Chapel Hill
- More than 9,000 homes planned to be built in Alamance County
more than ½ to be built to the west of downtown Burlington
- Over the next 10 years 23,000 more people will live in Alamance County
- By 2025 population expected to exceed 208,000 people. Close to a 100% increase in total population since 1990
- Chatham County is undergoing rapid development with over 6,800 homes currently approved
Major Residental Development Projects in Alamance and Chatham Counties:
- Mackintosh on the Lake:
Building 2,000 homes between I 85/40 and Lake Mackintosh on more than 600 acres along Alamance/Guilford county line. Construction under progress.
- Chatham County Golf Community
Located in Chapel Hill, the subdivision will contain 700 new homes. Currently the developer has already been sited for sediment contamination of local waterbodies.
- Briar Chapel (off of 15-501)
Set to break ground in 2006. It has been approved that 2,400 homes and 3 shopping areas will be constructed. The development will result in 10 or 11 stream crossings or wetland disturbances.
- Williams Pond
The construction of this subdivision will be developed following “Density Averaging.” This idea states that allowing more homes to be built closer to the river and fewer homes built in areas farther away will actually be a means of keeping excessive pollution out of the Haw River. Williams Ponds will contain 185 homes on 650 acres. Meadowview will contain 715 newly developed homes.
Aquatic Implications Associated with Development within Watersheds
As the population grows and development continues not only is the terrestrial environment altered but there is the possiblity for disturbance within the aquatic environment. Development has the potential to increase sediment and nutrient counts in water systems. Through the removal of natural vegetation, sediment and nutrients flow to local water systems through storm water and can cause great problems for aquatic systems.
• Forest lands and vegetation is cleared for the use of development.
• Ground level is exposed, accelerating the process of erosion through storm water run-off.
• Excessive sediment smothers submerged aquatic vegetation as well as fish species as their gills are filled with sediment.
• Aquatic habitats are destroyed and fish are stressed decreasing their ability to survive.
• Nutrients from residential lands, industrial parks, or recreational facilities flow into water systems via storm water.
• Excessive nutrients cause algal blooms which have multiple negative affects on water systems.
• Algal blooms block sunlight which limits growth of submerged aquatic vegetation ultimatily limiting habitats for aquatic animals.
• Furthermore, algal blooms are toxin producers which serve as a health risk to human life.
• Algal blooms die and decompose consuming oxygen from the water, lowering dissolved oxygen (DO) counts.
• Due to low DO counts fish begin to suffocate and die due.