Groups look to correct Mattamuskeet water quality

Published 8:11 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2017

HYDE COUNTY — A watershed plan for Lake Mattamuskeet is taking its first steps in getting off the ground, according to Michelle Moorman, field biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

At a public meeting Tuesday night, officials with USFWS and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission spoke to the crowd about the impending watershed plan, which is essentially a nine-element plan to promote water quality in Lake Mattamuskeet, Moorman said. The Hyde Soil and Water Board has also pledged its support.

The Environmental Protection Agency designated the lake as an “impaired water body,” meaning it is too polluted for its intended use. Officials have noticed the significant decline in Mattamuskeet’s submerged aquatic vegetation, brought on by an influx of phytoplankton and sediments, which reduce water clarity and bar sunlight from reaching the underwater grasses.

“Once the grass is gone, lake water quality continues to decline because the grasses are no longer there to anchor sediments to the bottom with their roots and to absorb the excess nutrients in the water and sediment,” a WRC article states.

Officials attribute this influx to a variety of factors, “including runoff from the surrounding farm fields and waterfowl impoundments draining to the lake, waterfowl feces and atmospheric deposition of nitrogen,” according to the article.

The watershed plan is meant to correct this influx of harmful materials, according to Moorman, and prevent changes in water quality from harming other species in and around the lake.

“You can’t address water quality without addressing hydrology,” Moorman said. “It’s a voluntary plan, but it’s a response to this (impaired) listing.”

Moorman said she thinks of the watershed plan process as similar to building a house. The process takes a long time, and tangible work can’t begin until a blueprint, or plan, is put in place. A group of stakeholders was designated to represent landowners and researchers throughout the process, Moorman said.

She said N.C. Coastal Federation is also working to facilitate planning.

To cover the costs of bringing the plan to fruition, the organizations intend to rely on 319 funds, which are watershed restoration funds dispersed through the EPA and Clean Water Act, Moorman said.

Officials also hope to hold quarterly public meetings to keep residents informed about what is happening.

“It was kind of this joint concern that brought us all together,” Moorman said.