Soil & Water Conservation program aims to reduce flooding (Case Study #1)

by | Jan 5, 2024

StRAP Case Study: Randolph County

Across North Carolina, there are dozens of recent projects aimed at reducing flooding – some complete and others still in progress. Those projects are focused on flood prevention by improving streams and waterways, thanks to $38 million set aside by the General Assembly. That allocation of money created the Streamflow Rehabilitation Assistance Program (StRAP) and made assistance available to communities around the state.
Staff in the NCDA&CS Division of Soil and Water Conservation reviewed applications, awarded the StRAP funding and helped with logistics for the local projects. A previous blog article and a news release in early 2022 explained more about StRAP. Now, with several projects finished or well underway, it’s a good time to share a few examples. The following is a Q&A about one of the projects. It’s the first in a series highlighting StRAP projects throughout North Carolina.

Local entity responsible for project:  Randolph Soil and Water Conservation District
Funding received:  $422,194
Project location: Caraway Creek, southern Randolph County
Q&A Participant:  Kaitlyn Johnson, director of Randolph Soil and Water Conservation

Q. Can you briefly describe your project?
A. Debris was removed from almost three miles of Caraway Creek in the southern part of Randolph County. Debris ranged from single fallen trees to piles of logs over eight feet high and 20 feet wide.
The large piles typically occurred where there was a bend in the creek, and due to the blockage the creek was trying to reroute around the pile, causing more flooding and land loss issues.

Q. Why was this important work for your area? How does it benefit people there?
A. During Hurricane Florence, Randolph County as well as upstream counties received unprecedented amounts of rainfall that caused flood levels at or near a 500-year event. During this time, it was realized the damage that could come from debris blocking creeks. The debris was a problem for water movement, structures and land.
The creek areas targeted for this project are made up of mostly cropland that would significantly flood with any moderate rain. Upon the completion of this project the landowner has noted no flooding into his fields, improving crop health and therefore increasing returns and decreasing runoff and erosion.

Another example of debris blocking Caraway Creek.

“Stream debris isn’t something people typically think about day to day except when a significant event occurs,” said Johnson. “If we can do preventative measures along the way to decrease the flooding potential, we likely will not see the level of damage with the next flooding event.”

Q. How important was the state funding to complete this project? Would it have been possible without the StRAP funds?
A. Without StRAP funding, Randolph Soil and Water would not have been able to fund this project. In addition, it also took manpower, and Randolph County was very supportive of Randolph Soil and Water to provide resources for staff to manage this program.

Q. Were there any complications or complex elements involved in your project?
A. The biggest challenge the project faced was the removal of the debris from the flood plain. [Debris could not be simply removed from the waterway and left piled up nearby. It had to be taken out of the 100-year floodplain, either by transport, burning or some other means.] During the final months of removal, our area received large amounts of rain causing the bottoms around the creek to never fully dry up. The contractor worked hard to get piles burning and keep them burning so the debris didn’t have to be trucked over large distances causing even more land disturbance.

Q. What was the general timeline for your project?
A. In late 2021/early 2022 – even before StRAP was approved – Randolph SWCD began looking at potential sites to put together a list of stream segments. We submitted the segments we had been able to put together in spring 2022. We received notification of funds in May 2022. The scope of work for those funds was submitted in June 2022. The fully signed contract agreement was returned August 2022. August/September we developed a project proposal and began putting the project out to bid. Bidding ended in October 2022, and the project was awarded to low bidder. In November 2022, work began. In January 2023, additional segments were added to the creek being cleaned. Work was complete March 2023.

“We began to look at sites in late 2021 in anticipation of the StRAP program,” Johnson said. “The Randolph Soil and Water Board really encouraged and supported us in making an early plan. We had never done anything like stream debris removal before in this county, so we knew we needed to get some data prepared with even the chance of getting funding.”

Q. Any final thoughts on how you feel about your StRAP project?
A. Having the opportunity to work on the StRAP program, as a new program for both Randolph Soil and Water and for the state, has been one of the highlights of my career. Luckily, Soil and Water Conservation is versatile across the state; we were able to lean on other districts that had participated in other debris removal work in the past. The logistics of taking it from potentially getting a funding opportunity through the proposal, to then bidding and the contacting process with my county was the biggest learning curve personally.

“The size of trees and volume of material was overwhelming to see when we first walked and documented the segments. Observing debris being removed and then when the channel was clear was extremely rewarding. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with a contractor that took great care and worked closely with us if any questions or concerns arose,” Johnson said.
“The immediate benefits we saw in the segments where creek debris was removed, confirmed for me the impact this program has. I can only imagine the long term benefits if it continues.”

N.C. StRAP by the numbers:

  • Funding allocated by N.C. General Assembly: $38 million
  • Amount of funding requested for StRAP projects across the state: >$311.6 million
  • Amount of funding awarded$36,746,160.06
    -Total reimbursements$19,897,489.05 paid out for all work done to date
  • Number of projects approved111 awards offered (108 accepted)
    -Projects by local soil & water conservation districts60
    -Projects by other entities48 (15 county governments, 20 municipal governments, 13 nonprofits/others)
    -Number of projects underway87
    -Number of projects completed21 ($4,665,919.06 in reimbursements paid for these completed projects)
    -Location and date of first project completion: Robeson County – work completed Aug. 18, 2022
  • Total work completed:
    Debris removal completed on 2,688,771 linear feet of stream
    Repairs completed on 29 “PL-566” small watershed structures
The N.C. General Assembly has allocated an additional $20 million for StRAP in fiscal year 2024 to continue funding projects that reduce flooding, restore streams and protect the drainage infrastructure of North Carolina’s waterways. The Division of Soil & Water Conservation is currently accepting applications for projects including vegetative debris removal, in-stream sediment removal, streambank stabilization, stream restoration and repair of PL-566 small watershed structures. Soil & water conservation districts, municipal & county governments, sewer & water authorities and nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply for funding. Applications will be accepted until February 23, 2024. Learn more on the StRAP website by clicking this green bar.