From left, Clemson research assistant Alicia McAlhaney, Extension agent Cathy Reas Foster, Pickens stormwater technician Kyle Bennett and Pickens County Stormwater Manager Scottie Ferguson check out the water quality in Twelve Mile Creek.

Clemson research assistant Alicia McAlhaney (left), Extension agent Cathy Reas Foster, Pickens stormwater technician Kyle Bennett and Pickens County stormwater manager Scottie Ferguson at Twelve Mile Creek.
Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

CLEMSON — Clemson University Cooperative Extension has joined forces with a dozen partners to devise a plan to clean up the pollutants plaguing the Twelve Mile, Eighteen Mile and Golden Creek watersheds, which comprise more than 53,000 acres in the Piedmont area of South Carolina.

Through a combination of onsite visits, spatial data analysis and laboratory research, the plan’s developers will suggest ways to improve the water quality of the three well-known creeks, all of which have been found to be impaired by monitoring agents with S.C. Department of Heath and Environmental Control. These important watercourses, which wind through Pickens County and a portion of Anderson County, are widely used by industry, adjacent landowners and recreational enthusiasts.

“States are required by the Clean Water Act to institute standards for certain water quality parameters. Once established, state regulatory agencies are required to monitor surface waters for exceeding those parameters and develop watershed plans to address deficiencies,” said Cal Sawyer, associate director of the Center for Watershed Excellence at Clemson University. “Watershed planning helps address water quality problems using a unified approach by assessing the potential contributing causes and sources of pollution, then prioritizing protection and restoration strategies to address these problems.”

Developing and implementing the “Twelve Mile, Eighteen Mile and Golden Creek Watershed Management Plan” will be complicated and time-consuming  It will take until August 2016 to fully develop it and subsequent years to begin its implementation. In the meantime, Clemson Extension and its partners will hold several meetings with public stakeholders to share their results and also glean information from the people who live on or near the creeks.

Here are some of the goals:

  • Develop a working plan with timelines and strategies
  • Host stakeholder meetings to gather input, data and educational needs
  • Perform geographic information system analysis of data and appropriate models that will characterize the watersheds and verify field observations
  • Identify critical areas, pollutant loads and determine targeted reductions
  • Identify possible sources for technical and financial assistance
  • Develop a completed watershed-based plan and work toward its implementation

Pollutants include sediment, excess nutrients, bacteria, debris and human and animal waste. The plan will focus on reducing the amount of bacteria running into the three creeks.

The frothy rapids in Twelve Mile Creek near Lay Bridge Road are a popular area for experienced kayakers.

The frothy rapids in Twelve Mile Creek near Lay Bridge Road are a popular area for experienced kayakers.
Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

“Our target is going to be E. coli, but we’re not going to close our eyes to other potential pollutants,” said Sawyer, who is Extension’s water resources specialist. “Keep in mind that about 65 percent of all the monitored water bodies in South Carolina have been found by DHEC to be impaired for one reason or another. This is a widespread and complex problem, but our goal is pretty simple: protect the waters of the state and make them safer and more enjoyable for swimming, fishing and other outdoor activities.”

Extension agent Cathy Reas Foster, research assistant Alicia McAlhaney and Pickens County stormwater technician Kyle Bennett have already begun visual inspections of DHEC’s 10 strategically placed surface water monitoring stations — six in Eighteen Mile, three in Twelve Mile and one in Golden Creek.

“So far, we’ve gone to all the stations and taken pictures throughout the area,” said McAlhaney, an undergraduate who is a senior at Clemson studying forest resource management. “When we go to a specific site, we look at the stream quality, the flow rate and water clarity. I’ve also done more than 70 hours of work in the lab, studying and compiling data that is helping us to write the watershed-based plan.”

Many factors affect water quality, including the diversity of the watercourses’ size and flow from one area to the next.

Some areas of the Upstate creeks are slow-moving and clogged with sediment.

Some areas of the Upstate’s creeks are slow-moving and clogged with sediment.
Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University

“I’ve been surprised by how much the water quality can change just a couple of hundred feet upstream or downstream — from 50-foot-wide areas to narrow channels,” Bennett said. “These kinds of abrupt differences can have a big effect on water quality. There is a lot more sediment and pollutant buildup where the stream is not fast-moving.”

Eighteen Mile Creek originates near the southwest portion of Easley and flows southwest along Highway 123 before eventually sluicing through Fant’s Grove Wilderness Area into an arm of Hartwell Lake. Golden Creek originates near the western portion of Easley and flows southwest along the eastern edge of Eighteen Mile Creek, eventually converging with Twelve Mile Creek north of Norris. The Twelve Mile Creek watershed begins below the North Twelve Mile where it is joined by Golden Creek at Norris and flows southwest into an arm of Hartwell.

The project is funded by a “319” grant, which falls under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act Section 319. The project team has extensive experience and local knowledge of the watersheds, landowners, local businesses and industries. Here are the cooperators and partners:

  • Pickens County Beautification and Environmental Committee (lead organization)
  • Clemson Cooperative Extension Service and Clemson University
  • Anderson and Pickens County Stormwater Partners
  • Southern Wesleyan University
  • Anderson County Stormwater Department
  • Pickens County Stormwater Department
  • City of Easley
  • Lake Hartwell Association
  • Upstate Forever
  • Naturaland Trust
  • S.C. Department of Natural Resources
  • Pickens County Soil and Water District

“This project highlights the importance of stakeholders and communities working together to improve water quality,” said Charles Gill, chairman of the Pickens County Beautification and Environmental Committee. “The watershed-based plan will promote environmental stewardship in these watersheds, thereby protecting Lake Hartwell and downstream.”