“The river is crying out, and we need to help it.” – Greg Jacobs
Tribal Administrator Greg Jacobs understood the significance of the Coharie River’s plight and decided to take matters into his own hands. The tribe has launched the Great Coharie River Initiative, a program that aims to return the creek to the clarity and flow it had a generation earlier. Work is already well underway, with Coharie volunteers working to clear felled trees and other obstructions from the waterway. As the Coharie acknowledge, there is plenty more work to be done.
Synthesizing independent council reports on the Great Coharie River and scientific literature on similar watersheds, a couple main issues for the river seem clear:
- Beavers have created extensive impoundments in certain areas of the river, driving the river toward a pond-like morphology and increasing nitrogen levels in the water
- Invasive species have run rampant with the loss of native trees and other native riparian zone species. In addition to lost biological diversity, this shift has accelerated the degradation of riverbanks and the overgrowth of trails, higher sediment loads in the water, and overgrowth of vegetation
- Irrigation canals, drainage ditches, and other diversions have also furthered erosion, flattened the topology of the watershed, slowed flow, and introduced new pollution sources
- Nearby livestock farms have presented another potential source of pollution through its contribution of high nutrient loads and pathogens. In the case of extreme weather conditions that result in flood, livestock farms become incredibly hazardous due to its overflowing lagoons
- A lack of buffers provides no protection against an inflow of nitrogen from fertilizer runoff released by commercial agricultural operations that dominate the local landscape.
- Dense algae growth has harmed water quality and has reduced biodiversity by taking over local habitats. Algae blooms are primarily a result of the nutrient rich, shallow, and warm water that characterize this watershed.
With these diverse but interconnected set of challenges, the Coharie have their work cut out for them to accomplish this river initiative.
- Continue to pursue permits to cull the beaver population and remove active and abandoned beaver dams
- Also pursue permits and funding to remove invasive species like spiderwort or parrotfeather from the river’s banks. This will require some training on how to identify these species from each other and from native plants, as they tend to resemble each other when growing close together. Prioritizing removal in the lower-order streams should have an accumulating effect on removal in the mainstem stream.
- Promote projects that use best management practices (BMPs) in order to reduce stressors from agriculture, erosion, and invasive aquatic species. BMP suggestions include establishing vegetated buffer strips and planting cover crops to minimize erosion.
- Engagement between the tribe and the creek is already there, but there are specific local partners that could provide a platform from which the voices of the Coharie people could be heard. Potential local partners are –
- Friends of Sampson County Waterways
- Sampson County Cooperative Extensition Town of Newton Grove
- Farm Service Agency
- Sampson County SWCD
The Coharie Creek is not an inanimate object but a living and breathing home for many different organisms. Not only does it foster a rich natural heritage, it is also central to the collective memory of the Coharie tribe. The tribe recognizes the beauty of this natural body of water and also the importance of its health in relation to our own well being. We could all learn from the efforts the Coharie has put forth to revive this creek, and recognize that we are part of a complex and interconnected ecosystem that needs to be further fostered and stewarded through the communities and individuals that live in it.