The Bonne Femme Watershed Project is hosting an open house this evening to promote conversation between those living in the watershed and those charged with protecting it. The event will be from 5 to 8 p.m. at Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church, just off U.S. 63 south of Columbia.
Terry Frueh, watershed conservationist for the county planning department, said the purpose is “to hear what people who live in the watershed have to say, and to hear their hopes and concerns for the watershed.
“We’re hoping a lot of people come to see what we’re up to,” Frueh said.
The Watershed Project was formed in June 2003 to prevent increased degradation to the 93-square-mile watershed south of Columbia. The area contains karst geology that connects surface and groundwater and is valued for its network of public lands — including Rock Bridge Memorial State Park and Three Creeks Conservation Area.
The Watershed Project has a $1.2 million budget, $727,400 of which is supplied by a four-year grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act. The remaining 40 percent has been provided in local funds.
Frueh said the focus of the project is mitigating the impact of urbanization on the hydrology of an area that includes five streams designated outstanding state resource waters: Bonne Femme, Gans, Turkey, Bass and Devil’s Icebox Cave Branch.
Urbanization can cause changes in the quality of water and the timing and quantity of its flow. Increased runoff into streams — a side effect of development — can pose several threats to the health of a watershed: it can introduce pollutants to the water, change the nature of a stream channel and adversely affect natural habitats.
Before these problems can be solved, however, they must be diagnosed and the sources pinpointed. The project contracted Applied Ecological Services, an ecological consulting and restoration firm based out of Wisconsin, to collect and analyze water-quality data.
The analysis is set to be completed by June, at which time the project will focus on establishing cost-share projects with landowners to prevent further degradation, Frueh said.
The project’s steering committee is trying to reach out to the public. The open house will include a presentation of the project’s progress and goals, as well as an opportunity for members of the public to respond.
Project manager Bill Florea said water quality has an impact on residents in the watershed. Clean water is necessary for more than recreation and economic purposes, he said, noting that public areas such as Rock Bridge and Three Creeks bring tourist dollars into the county, and that clean water is a part of the attraction.
“Because we’re trying to accommodate development and protect the water quality in the area,” Florea said, “it’s important that (residents) be involved in the decision-making process.”