Reed Island Creek

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Big Reed Island Creek is one of the largest tributaries of the New River (part of the Upper New Watershed) situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains Physiographic Province of the Appalachian Mountains. The main stem of the river flows for approximately 95.98 kilometers (~60 miles) from the headwater source at Hurricane Knob in Meadows of Dan, Virginia (elev. 944 m) and opens to the New River via Big Reed Junction near Hiwassee, Virginia (see Map 1). Several tributaries and a confluence of smaller streams flow through the region, adding over a hundred extra miles to the length of the watershed. The principal named tributaries to Big Reed are Bear Creek, Big Branch, Bobbitt Creek, Buckhorn Creek, Burks Fork, Grassy Creek, Greasy Creek, Little Snake Creek, Pine Creek, Snake Creek, Stone Mountain Creek, Sulphur Spring Branch. It covers approximately 110.5 km2 (27,318 acres) and crosses Pulaski, Floyd, and Carroll County, Virginia in the southwestern part of the state.

Land Use[edit]

The 2030 Carroll County Plan has a lot of information regarding the land use and natural resources that influence the Big Reed Island Creek watershed. Most of the land in the area is rural with a gentle rolling landscape, and includes forests, agriculture and open space. Table 1 and Map 2 from the comprehensive plan highlights the acreage and percent of existing land use in the county. Over half (54.4%) of the existing land use in Carroll Co. is designated for agriculture while 16% is described as vacant or open space. Forested areas are the next most abundant land cover type with 11.5% of the existing land used for forestry.

Residential development is the single most intensive use of developed land in rural areas, and 11.4% of the existing land in Carroll County is used for either suburban residential, urban residential, or commercial development. The 2030 Carroll County Plan has a very low projected rate of growth for the county, but says that the greatest demand on the land in the coming decades will come from the residential sector.

Wetlands comprise 1.5% of the land in Carroll County, Virginia. Figure 1 on the next page shows the types of wetlands listed in the county and includes freshwater emergent wetlands, freshwater forested/shrub wetlands, freshwater ponds, and riverines and other. These areas filter and replenish groundwater, act as a flood buffer, provide and protect important habitats, and mitigate and prevent erosion. The next section describes one of the tributaries, Sulphur Spring Branch, and further describes the presence of freshwater forested/shrub wetlands that contribute to the overall health of the watershed.

Sulphur Spring Branch[edit]

Sulphur Spring Branch is a 2.08 mile-long first order stream flowing from the Big Reed Island confluence upstream to headwaters in Laurel Fork, Virginia. The elevation here is 754 meters (2474 feet). Only three roads cross Sulphur Spring Branch: Keno Road (Route 640), Ben Ridge Road (Route 647), and Windover Road (Route 648). This headwater stream is located on private property and as of 2010, it has not been assessed for water quality by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The National Wetlands Inventory performed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service have documented three wetlands along Sulphur Spring Branch. The wetlands are located just south of Windover Road. They are described as freshwater forested/scrub wetlands in the Palustrine System, Scrub-Shrub Class, and Broad-Leaved Deciduous Sub-Class. The wetlands are seasonally flooded, meaning surface water is present for extended periods especially early in the growing season, but is absent by the end of the growing season in most years. Table 3 at the end of this document lists native Virginia plant species in the Sulphur Spring wetlands documented by the U.S. National Wetlands Inventory.

Environmental Indicators and Overall Health[edit]

A 2010 Water Quality Assessment reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listed the overall water status of Big Reed Island Creek as “Impaired”. The upper, lower, and tributary sections of BRIC were assessed separately and looked at four designated uses of the river including aquatic life, fish consumption, recreation, and wildlife. Two major sources of impairment were found along the 19.16 mile section of Big Reed from headwaters on Hurricane Knob downstream to the Pine Creek confluence near Crooked Oak.

Environmental indicators of poor water quality in the BRIC watershed include impaired aquatic biota and the presence of fecal coliform, Escherichia coli (E. coli) pathogens. Biological assessments of benthic macro invertebrates were used to identify problems with aquatic life. According to the EPA, the probable source of contamination is unknown. However, evidence of fecal coliform and E. coli in the water and the extensive agricultural land use in the county suggest that the health of the watershed could be compromised by an outflow of waste runoff from farms and livestock production in the region. The presence of fecal pathogenic organisms in the water impair the recreational use of the watershed. Fish consumption (aquatic life harvesting) was not assessed by the EPA in the 2010 report, and wildlife (fish, shellfish, and wildlife protection and propagation) has a “good” status, showing no signs of impairment.

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