Haywood County

Emergency Watershed Protection

In the summer of 2004, Western North Carolina was affected by two hurricanes, Frances and Ivan, that hit only nine days apart. Frances was the first storm, which brought more than 12 inches of rain to the North Fork Reservoir and between 16-17 inches to the Black Mountain / Swannanoa area. On September 8, 2004, the water swamped Biltmore Village and the Pigeon River in Haywood County. The flooding devastated homes and businesses.

Nine days later, as the area was recovering, Hurricane Ivan ascended. With the land still saturated from Frances, Ivan produced additional rainfall and 40-mile-per-hour wind gusts, creating more damage. Combined, Frances and Ivan produced approximately 400 landslides in the region. The storms and their effects damaged homes, businesses, lives, and critical habitats for many endangered species in the area. Following these storms, McGill helped Haywood County by providing environmental permitting and stream restoration design for multiple locations along the Pigeon River. McGill provided design, permitting, and construction phase services for this project.

In the summer of 2021, Tropical Storm Fred came through the area in a similar fashion and flooded parts of Haywood County. Haywood County saw over 14 inches of water throughout a 12-hour period, with locally heavier rainfall near the headwaters of the Pigeon River at Graveyard Fields, which saw 8 inches throughout a 3-hour period. The storm displaced over 150 people and took the lives of 6. Fred caused significant damage to areas along the Pigeon River, leaving behind miles of debris and significantly altering the channel alignment and streambank stability.

McGill is working with and supporting the Haywood County community by coordinating right-of-entry with residents, surveying, obtaining environmental and floodplain permits, developing plans for the removal of debris, assisting with bidding, and providing construction oversight and contract administration for the emergency watershed protection project. Stantec is working as a subconsultant for McGill and is providing the streambank stabilization design work. Haywood County has been granted funding for this project through federal and state resources, including the US Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program, the NC Department of Agriculture Streamflow Rehabilitation Assistance Program (StRAP), and the NC Department of Public Safety Emergency Management Disaster Relief and Mitigation Fund.

Haywood county on map

The Challenge

Unlike many others, this project is not static, as the field conditions are subject to change. When McGill started working on the emergency watershed protection project, some of our team members went to the river to record the location of significant debris piles and areas that would need streambank stabilization; however, with every major rain event, it is possible for the debris piles to move downstream. Additionally, the streambanks can continue to erode over time, which can change the proposed solution for stabilization in those areas. A major storm event occurred during Phase 1, which required additional field assessments. These changing conditions are challenging but inherent to this type of project.

Our Solution

McGill is responding to these challenges with diligence. After significant rain events, our team visits the recorded sites to observe and note any changes to their condition. If conditions have changed, McGill coordinates with residents, Haywood County, the funding and permitting agencies, and the contractors to modify the plans and scope of work.

During Phase 1 of the emergency watershed protection project, McGill has been coordinating with the contractors who are removing debris from the river. The contractors use low impact equipment such as chainsaws and hand-removal where feasible and equipment like excavators, skid-steers, dump trucks, when necessary.

The Results

During Phase 1 of the emergency watershed protection project, McGill’s water resources, civil, and environmental staff have already helped remove debris from approximately 3 miles of the river and its tributaries. The plan for Phase 2 is to continue removing debris in areas that required more in-depth permitting and to work on streambank stabilization. With the progress so far, there is already a reduced threat of continued flooding and damage to public infrastructure, public lands, and private lands. The storms wreaked havoc on the river and the Haywood County community, but with the restoration efforts, residents and visitors will again be able to enjoy the benefits of a clean river.

“The flooding caused unimaginable damage to the area, impacting the lives of many residents, business owners, and anyone who enjoys recreational activities along the Pigeon River. Our role in this project has provided me with a greater appreciation for all the benefits offered by our natural resources here in Western North Carolina and helped me better connect with those who live, work, or thrive from activities on the river. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help restore such a beautiful area and to be involved with such an impactful, community-oriented project.”

  • Khiya Armstrong, PE
    Project Engineer



River in haywood county

Contractors working on the streambank in Haywood County.


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Problem Solving

Project Services Included:

  • Design
  • Environmental permitting
  • Hydraulic modeling and analysis
  • Contract administration
  • Construction observation
  • Funding coordination
  • Public outreach
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