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A Wake County task force has recommended to commissioners more stringent safeguards on streams and rivers.
Capping a year and a half of study, the watershed management task force said in a report released Monday that the county should require larger stream buffers in priority watershed areas, prohibit development in the 100-year flood plain and encourage preservation of open space in subdivision developments. Watersheds, which drain to streams, rivers or lakes, serve as water supplies, recreation areas and wildlife habitats. Priority watersheds mainly serve as drinking water supplies.
Commissioners are expected to approve the recommendations in January.
Commissioner Kenn Gardner was chairman of the task force, which included developers, environmental groups and elected officials.
"More than any other study we have done, this was a pivotal study if it's actually embraced by the community," Gardner said. "Water has become a resource that's on everyone's radar."
The task force -- along with consulting firm CH2MHILL, which was paid $492,300 -- rated all 81 watersheds in Wake. Thirty are considered healthy, 38 are threatened by sediment or other runoff and 13 -- mostly in densely developed urban areas -- are in poor condition.
Mike Jennings, a county Environmental Services staffer who worked on the study, said the plan should not be seen as an obstacle to future growth. "We wanted to maintain the quality of the water but not adversely impact the economic development of the county," Jennings said.
Sediment from construction sites and streambank erosion caused by runoff from developed areas is the biggest cause of clogged streams in the county, the report concluded.
The recommendations include:
Requiring 100-foot stream buffers on streams within priority watersheds and 50-foot buffers in other watersheds. Buffers -- strips of trees, grass or shrubs along riverbanks -- help protect streams from runoff and nurture aquatic life.
Prohibiting development in the 100-year flood plain with the exception of utilities.
Encouraging conservation subdivisions, which preserve large tracts of open space within new subdivisions.
Using incentives that reward developers for cutting down on impervious surface in priority watersheds. Impervious surfaces such as pavement and rooftops keep water from soaking into the soil, creating more stormwater runoff.
Educating homeowners about well and septic system maintenance.
Commissioner Herb Council said the county is "ahead of the curve" in scrutinizing its water resources.
"I don't know that we're in a dire situation at this point, but we've got to have a plan in place to protect our water supply," he said. "Now we have to move on to implementation."