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River Restoration Project in Western NC Aims to Save Trout Population

The Linville River in western North Carolina. (Greg Jennings/Jennings Environmental PLLC)
The Linville River in western North Carolina. (Greg Jennings/Jennings Environmental PLLC)
October 22, 2019

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A major project to restore more than 1,000 feet of the Linville River flowing through Gill State Forest in western North Carolina is nearly complete. Environmentalists say the improvements will help ensure the river's trout population, along with other fish species, can thrive.

Greg Jennings is an engineer who led the effort. He said over time, erosion can cause rivers to widen and become unstable.

"Development of roads, and building and residential communities causes more stormwater to run off quickly into the rivers,” Jennings said. “And that water entering into the rivers quickly can lead to some erosion problems."

The state Forest Service and state Division of Water Resources teamed up with Resource Institute, an organization that specializes in stream and river restoration, to undertake the project.

Darrell Westmoreland, CEO at North State Environmental, implemented the restoration project. He said the Linville river's water quality and flow had been previously flagged by the state as being at risk for degrading to the point where it could no longer support a trout population.

"Because the river acts like a conveyor belt, it's constantly moving the gravel and material that you see on the bottom,” Westmoreland said. “What had happened in this particular reach of the Linville River, it had gotten shallow, and shallow water does not support trout very well."

Shallow waters can cause a host of problems. Forest hydrologist Bill Swartley with the North Carolina Forest Service said an important aspect of reconstructing the river involved ensuring enough water depth is available for aquatic life, especially during moderate to severe drought.

"The aquatic life, the macrobenthos - or aquatic insects - and fish will have a place to stay during low-flow periods,” Swartley said.

Swartley also pointed out that most of North Carolina's rivers should be maintained regularly to help them handle the runoff from more extreme rains and storms, particularly in the face of a changing climate. More information on the Linville River Restoration Project is available at NCForestService.gov.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC