Watching over the Waters: State, Town Try to Find Ways to Protect Resource

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State, town try to find ways to protect resource: Town Creek on North Turner Street in Beaufort is home to residential, commercial and recreational uses. The town staff is working on a plan to improve and protect the water quality in the creek by improving stormwater management. (Photo credit: Dylan Ray)

Article courtesy of MIKE SHUTAK | October 11, 2014 | CarlinaCoastOnline | Shared as education material

MOREHEAD CITY — North Carolina is growing in population and development, including in Carteret County, but efforts are being made – on both state and local levels – to watch the effect this has on water quality and to address the impacts.

Carteret Crossroads, a local nonprofit dedicated to protecting the local coastal environment, held a presentation Thursday evening at Carteret Community College on water quality. Diane Reid, N.C. Division of Water Resources’ Water Science Section chief and Wade Keeler, Beaufort administrative specialist, were there to talk about water quality research and protection programs on the state’s coast, including efforts to protect and improve water quality in the Town Creek watershed.

The state has been involved in tracking water quality for decades. Ms. Reid said the water division has been collecting water quality samples through its 323 active monitoring stations throughout the state for over 40 years.

“We (the water science section) bring together the physical monitoring, the chemical monitoring and the biological observation to help the division’s activities under the Clean Water Act,” she said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Water Act is a 1972 federal act that establishes regulations for discharges of pollutants into U.S. waters and regulations for quality standards for surface waters. The act makes it illegal to discharges pollutants from a point source – such as a pipe or a man-made ditch – into navigable waters without a permit.

State water quality monitoring has declined in recent years. Ms. Reid said her section used to have a volunteer monitoring program, but budget cuts shut it down. The DWR is currently looking into federal funding opportunities to restart the program.

Human activity is a big factor in water quality. Ms. Reid said that the population in North Carolina has been growing at a rate of about 1 million people every 10 years.

“That really does tax our resources,” she said. “There’s more development, more industry coming in and more (stormwater) runoff.”

Stormwater runoff is the No.1 source of water pollution on the North Carolina coast. Rain that runs off of impervious surfaces picks up pollutants, nutrients and sediments and can carry them to the water.

The Beaufort municipal government is working on ways to protect and improve water quality on a local level. Mr. Keeler said the town staff is working on a watershed protection document to guide its stormwater management efforts.

The staff is using a guidebook developed by the N.C. Coastal Federation, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the state’s coastal environment, on watershed restoration planning.

“The premise behind the guidebook is to generate a watershed protection document without a total maximum daily load,” he said. A TMDL is the amount of pollutants a water body is determined to be able to handle without a drop in water quality.

Mr. Keeler said that while developed land can never have the same amount of stormwater runoff that it did before it was developed, the impact can be minimized.

“The primary purpose of the document is to restore water quality through stormwater reduction,” he said.

Beaufort is located in the Town Creek watershed, which is about 1,239 acres. Mr. Keeler said that historically, the creek has been used to handle the town’s wastewater and stormwater.

As Mr. Keeler and his colleagues have been working on Beaufort’s watershed protection document, they’ve researched multiple data sources to get an idea of the types of runoff coming from the Beaufort area, as well as locate areas of concern. They’ve found that from 1992 to 2011, the land coverage in the watershed has changed; more areas have become developed, with downtown Beaufort expanding, the Beaufort-Morehead City Airport growing and the building of the town’s wastewater treatment plant.

As a result of the changes in the landscape, stormwater runoff has also increased in the watershed. According to Mr. Keeler, the runoff increased from 46,662,200.34 total gallons in 1992 to 63,292,570.30 gallons in 2011.

Beaufort’s town staff has been looking at various soil parcels throughout the watershed to find where much of the runoff is coming from. Areas of concern it’s found include the Carteret County courthouse, Front Street Village, “Mercerville” (meaning the Gary Mercer housing projects) and Beaufort Middle School.

“We have the data,” Mr. Keeler said, “we know what we need to assess and do. I just need to generate the document.”

Once Mr. Keeler has finished the final draft of the watershed protection document, it will be brought to the town board of commissioners for final approval. Mr. Keeler said once the document is approved, they’ll be able to apply for grants for stormwater management projects.

Efforts are also being made throughout the state to protect and restore water quality, and it shows. Ms. Reid said that according to data from the 2011 State of The Environment Report from the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, both fecal coliform (a harmless bacteria in the waste of warm-blooded animals that the state uses as an indicator of the potential presence of other, harmful bacteria) and turbidity (cloudiness in water caused by suspended particles) has declined since the 1970s in the waters of the coastal plain.

Anyone who wants to be involved in water quality management on the state level can help by reporting things like fish kills or pollutant spills to the DWR. Ms. Reid said the division will also hold public meetings in 2015 for a review of all the division’s rules and regulations.

Ms. Reid also encouraged people who want to get involved to visit the DWR’s website at www.ncwater.org for more information on opportunities to pitch in.

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikescc

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