Clay County, North Carolina: Watershed Highlights 2015

New groundswell of support for water quality

Hayesville, N.C., Feb. 13, 2016 – The Hiwassee River flows innocently out of the north Georgia highlands and at Chatuge Dam near here, it has its first impoundment (of what will be many) by the Tennessee Valley Authority and so forms Lake Chatuge.

This visual stunner on the American landscape fills a natural bowl. You can drive to mountaintops encircling it and never stop any place where you don’t find the lake beautiful and spiritually renewing — yet perennially in danger of pollution.

Just now, you sense a lot of relief among residents that there’s an effective non-profit Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition (HRWC) promoting water quality. Twenty years of results prove it’s the one to monitor, plan for and nudge leaders at all levels to commit to the continued care of this lake.

The volume of snow and rain recently makes it inexcusable to be apathetic about water anymore. In Clay County where there has been a century-long average annual precipitation of 57.7 inches, Philip Moore measured 87.3 inches in 2013 and 99.55 in 2015.

Since last year’s Watershed Gala fundraiser, Moore and her HRWC also have:
-Worked with N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to complete a public-access boat launch on the Hiwassee River at Tusquittee Creek Road;
-Helped host “Kids in the Creek” for eighth graders in this program’s second consecutive year;
-Conducted stream and habitat restoration in the Town Creek watershed (that’s part of this larger watershed);
-Filed an objection to the June 2015 draft decision by the U.S. Forest Service to allow landowners to construct a road up Phillips Ridge trail to a 50-acre inholding on the rim; and
-Led another Lake Chatuge shoreline volunteer trash cleanup.

Water’s involved as I ask the reader to tolerate one more paragraph with data, please. Oklahoma has been among the national leaders in millions of cubic feet of fracking since 2003, according to Ballotpedia. Now this: On Feb. 8, AP reported: “This year Oklahoma has had more than 90 earthquakes, according to U.S. Geological Survey.”

HAYESVILLE MAYOR Harry Baughn opposed fracking while other local government leaders – to use a very apt expression here – ran for the hills. Yes, I concede that when oil and gas industry leaders wrote the 2014 N.C. Energy Modernization Act, as it’s called, they applied lessons they’d learned in other states and anti-democratically blocked any input from local government leaders. The speech clause of the Constitution remained in effect. Yet except for Baughn, officials here were silent as lambs on fracking.

He joins fellow citizens at Clay Co. Board of Commissioners meetings to know first-hand what actions they’re taking. He is an irrepressible ambassador of cooperation, good will and optimism across western North Carolina. Baughn’s leadership on some big environmental issue arising in the future is eagerly awaited.

Now this: “DAMS BLOCK a river’s flow and can harm clean water, fish and wildlife, and recreation opportunities,” according to American Rivers.

I believe solar can aid the removal of some of the less productive Tennessee Valley Authority dams on the Hiwassee River. This working river can be an even more scenic river.

Clay Co. government adopted a solar-farm ordinance in 2011. It requires safety fencing, proper setbacks from property lines and public roads, and vegetative buffers, according to Lorraine Bennett in the Clay County Progress. Leaders of other county governments: Please obtain this ordinance and lead your commissioners to adopt it, too.

Tom Bennett of the Martins Creek community near Murphy, N.C., is a retired newsman, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition member/volunteer and winner of the 2015 Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award. E-mail him at