Loves Creek Watershed Stewards to launch new community program

Posted 3/2/21

The Loves Creek Watershed Stewards — a group of local environmentalists committed to improving water quality and drainage issues in Siler City’s Loves Creek watershed — have worked for years …

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Loves Creek Watershed Stewards to launch new community program

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The Loves Creek Watershed Stewards — a group of local environmentalists committed to improving water quality and drainage issues in Siler City’s Loves Creek watershed — have worked for years collecting data and sponsoring improvement projects. Soon, their entire body of work, including a comprehensive map of the water system, will be online for interested residents to explore and modify.

If all goes according to plan, the LCWS team will have created an interactive online platform — hosted on the state’s domain — by the summer of 2022. The editable story map format will chronicle the team’s years-long work and detail areas of future activity.

The new project, called the “Loves Creek Watershed action plan,” will be funded by a $75,000 grant from the North Carolina Land and Water trust fund.

“The ultimate, the big picture, goal of the project is to give us an opportunity to gather the data information that’s already out there,” said Grace Messinger, a member of LCWS and a project manager at Piedmont Conservation Council.

But the website will do more than just showcase complete work. It will afford environmentally conscious Siler City residents the chance to engage with LCWS and contribute to the town’s watershed revitalization.

“So, the cool thing is it’s not just gonna be a static document,” said Catherine Deininger, another LCWS member and co-founder of the environmental consulting firm Biocenosis. “People will be able to identify and collect, in one place, the potential for future projects or potential projects or areas of concern that deal with water quality issues.”

Loves Creek Watershed is an 8-square-mile water system that flows through Siler City and the surrounding area before draining into the Rocky River. All of downtown lies within its 400-acre girth, as well as several populous areas such as the Park Shopping Center.

The watershed’s expanse is largely unknown, LCWS members say, but it heavily affects local ecology.

“Loves Creek is an impaired watershed — an impaired and largely forgotten watershed,” Deininger previously told the News + Record. “Most people don’t know where it is.”

What little Siler City residents do know, however, usually comes from the watershed’s propensity to induce flooding.

But Deininger and Messinger hope the action plan will change public perception. It will dispel common misunderstandings about the watershed’s local impact and encourage more people to contribute to the town’s environmental cleanup.

“No matter if you’re part of our projects or not,” Messigner said, “we’re gonna be able to take all this information that occurred over the years and have it be in a one stop shopping type of area that you can access.”

The online story map, “which will be an application you can use,” Deininger said, will feature a complete view of the watershed’s intricate network. There will be icons showing areas of past and current LCWS projects, what was accomplished and where funding was sourced. A custom built survey tool will “eventually be made available to the public for them to be able to add stuff to this map,” she added.

“So, we’ll be able to get more information and education out to the public where it’s not just coming through us,” Messinger said. “I think that’s probably one of the bigger the bigger accomplishments of this process.”

Recently, LCWS acquired an intern through the UNC EcoStudio — a program that pairs Environment and Ecology undergraduate students from UNC-Chapel Hill with environmental organizations — to test an early version of the action plan and compile data.

“She actually has gone and started using some of the tools that are part of this online map to collect information that we plan to highlight in this story map, this action plan,” Deininger said. “So she’s doing some of the field work for us.”

So far, the action plan is functioning well, but with some kinks that need rectification before the program can go live.

“We’re still working through a few little bugs,” Deininger said. “We’ve run into issues, things like one of the issues we ran into the other day was you can only put one photo per project ... So, things like that, that’s why it hasn’t launched yet.”

The LCWS team hopes to compile most of its watershed data into the action plan before opening the application for public use. But once it goes live, LCWS thinks the action plan could be a game changer for Siler City residents eager to improve the town’s watershed impairment.

“So before we really launch, or work with the state to actually put something up on the website that would be the story map, we’re going to be probably 75% of the way through,” Messinger said. “But the neat thing will be that even once our grant is done, the beauty of it is that it’s going to live on where we can then add to it and then we can share with other people how they can add information to it, as well.”

Reporter D. Lars Dolder can be reached at dldolder@chathamnr.com and on Twitter @dldolder.

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