McAlister told magistrates that her group recommends a three pronged plan of attack for improving the Hanging Fork: reduce human fecal inputs, reduce livestock fecal inputs and physically improve the watercourse. The first objective, reducing human waste in the creek, will have the biggest impact on the Hanging Fork's health because it accounts for over 75 percent of the problem. It is also the most expensive.
The group, which is made up of county residents, researchers and state and local officials recommended that first, field studies be done to identify an estimated 307 specific residences with failing or substandard systems, and notify them via the health department of the situation. Repairing that many septic systems could cost landowners as much $1.2 million or up to $4,000 per property.
The group also recommended that 1,250 residences currently using septic systems in the Hustonville-Moreland area along US 127 be put on a sewer line running to Danville. The estimated cost of this project is $5.8 million, but the availability of multiple grants for projects of this sort would mitigate the cost to homeowners and taxpayers.
The second area of concern, livestock contribution to the waste in the Hanging Fork, has been being addressed for several years. In fact, before the waste was tied to humans through DNA testing, it was assumed that most of the problem was from livestock. Area farmers have been making significant progress not only keeping animals out of the creek, but insuring that runoff containing animal waste doesn't make it into the water. The planning group encouraged continuing education of area farmers to ensure they know of the availability of cost shares available through the EQIP program set up specifically to improve water quality.
McAlister told the magistrates that maintaining a healthy streamside environment was important as well.
"Trees filter and shade the water, and stop stream bank erosion," she said. Trees shading the water keep it cooler and reduce algal blooms that lower oxygen levels in the water.
The planning group recommended that ordnances be established to maintain riparian buffers, and that a public education program be put in place to raise awareness of the importance of establishing and maintaining buffers.
The court agreed to participate in the first step forward on improving water quality in the Hanging Fork through community education. McAlister asked the fiscal court to provide support for a VISTA volunteer who will be assigned to the area for three years to work on community outreach.
The county agreed to set aside office space for the volunteer, and magistrates will consider some financial support, such as mileage reimbursement, at a later date.
McAlister has already raised the matching funds required to secure the assignment of a VISTA volunteer through outside sources, and taxpayers won't be responsible for those costs.