Newsletter #101, March 2003 PO Box 155 Beaufort, NC 252-726-6663

Stormwater Runoff – “Too Much Water in the Wrong Place is Trouble”: Annual Meeting, March 2003

Emily Farmer, Commissioner in Emerald Isle, spoke first on the flooding and pollution problems facing Emerald Isle and the steps being taken to solve these problems. She said that Emerald Isle is a textbook example of how towns fail to take preemptive measures and then are forced to undertake large, expensive solutions to correct the ensuing problems. She noted that clean water is becoming a rarity in some other parts of the US, but that North Carolina still has an opportunity to learn from others about how to preserve clean water.
The western end of Emerald Isle has been plagued with flooding that has resulted from poor development practices that have filled wetlands, reduced puddling areas by leveling land, reduced vegetation, etc.. To handle the flooding, the Division of Water Quality (DWQ) gave Emerald Isle a permit to pump water into the ocean in cases of emergency flooding. The town did not adhere to the rules about when emergency pumping was allowed and was cited by DWQ more than once. Eventually, a new study produced a plan to turn a 40-acre parcel into a place to get rid of excess water. The cost was about $4 million. This does not solve the entire problem for the whole town, so now they are developing a new ordinance that would require the first two inches of rain to be retained on a lot and would prohibit destruction of the vegetation. The Land Use Plan is also being updated, ahead of schedule. So it has been a story of short-term gain due to environmentally insensitive development, resulting in long-term loss for the environment and citizen taxpayers. Citizens need to be aware and speak up.

Randy Martin, City Manager of Morehead City, spoke next on the steps that Morehead City has been taking since 1995 to deal with stormwater runoff and water quality. When an explosion of development in the mid-90s raised the awareness of the Morehead City council members, they began to explore the issues of stormwater runoff, flooding and water quality.
In 1994, upon recommendation of the Planning Board, the Zoning Ordinance was amended to allow cluster development, thus allowing developers the option to reduce minimum lot sizes up to 50% without increasing density. The “leftover” land could then be preserved as open space. This concept is being employed to preserve an extensive wetland system in the planned Country Club Run subdivision on the Newport River.

In 1996 the Council received a planning and management grant from CAMA to study the city stormwater system. It turned out that this was a first in North Carolina. Using GPS (Global Positioning System) and GIS (Geographic Information System), the stormwater drainage system was charted. The resulting data
became an invaluable maintenance tool for the Public Works Department, and all development projects since 1995 have been more closely scrutinized with an emphasis on stormwater impacts.
Attendance at seminars alerted the City Manager, City Planner and Public Works Director to the Phase II permitting process. The city is not on the list current of those required to institute Phase II, but Council has directed Staff to pursue planning for voluntary compliance.
Additional steps have also been taken toward the goal of preserving clean water. The City purchased Sugarloaf Island in partnership with the North Carolina Coastal Federation with the help of a grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The island now has a permanent conservation easement. The city also obtained a CAMA Planning and Management Grant to do a Stormwater Analysis of the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. A stormwater ordinance is under review by the staff. The City is organizing forums to educate Planning Board members throughout the County about various matters, including Coastal Stormwater Regulations. The City has received ahead of schedule an NPDES industrial Site Permit for its Public Works site. The City received a combination grant and loan to construct a tertiary package treatment plant for a water reuse demonstration project. Treated effluent will be used to grow sod on certain City property and eventually to irrigate fields at a planned new park. This will reduce effluent into Calico Creek. Alternative methods for dealing with stormwater runoff are being explored by the Planning Board (swale ditches, retention ponds, landscaping requirements).
So Morehead City is trying to get in the forefront of efforts to preserve our clean water.

Meg Rawls, biology instructor at Carteret County Community College and lead person for the College’s activities in the management of stormwater, spoke on issues and solutions to the stormwater problems at the College. The College has stormwater problems on their own property that are compounded by water from across highway 70 that is directed under the highway to College property.
The College teamed with the neighboring North Carolina Institute of Marine Studies and the State Marine Fisheries facility to obtain a planning grant to investigate their runoff problems. The runoff of all three organizations goes directly into Bogue Sound, which they border. Charettes were organized to explore how to deal with the stormwater runoff. An engineering study suggested breakwaters with marsh grass behind, but breakwaters have some adverse effects on SA waters, so an altered method was devised that also involves rock and marsh grass. In addition, a “rain garden” to handle the drainage from 35th Street to the Sound is contemplated. Moreover, an infiltration pond is planned where some old buildings will be demolished. The North Carolina Coastal Federation plans to plant spartina grass in the spring in the depressions left after removal of the buildings.

Frank Tursi, North Carolina Coastal Federation Cape Lookout Coastkeeper, spoke on the problems that arise when a stormwater control system at a major commercial development does not function as planned. In the shopping development called Morehead Crossing Center there is considerable flooding on the roads after a rain.
More wetlands were filled than the Corps of Engineers permit allowed and more stores were built than shown on the permitted plan. No one was watching, neither the Corps nor the Division of Water Quality. On August 26-28, 2002 ten inches of rain fell and the roads in some places were flooded up to one’s knees. The development was poorly designed and the regulators did not regulate. Tribek, the developer, was cited for the flooding and for building more buildings than had been permitted but they have not so far been penalized.
Mr. Tursi related that the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) is establishing new stormwater rules and asked those present to write letters urging the EMC to adopt strong rules. He noted that studies have shown that water quality degrades when as little as12% of the land in a watershed is paved or otherwise built upon. The “low density” option in current coastal stormwater rules allows 25% impervious surface, leading to continued water pollution and closing of shellfish beds. When the rules were first formulated, the allowed impervious surface was 15%, but builders have prevailed to place it at 25% currently. The comment period closes at the end of April. (Dick Bierly volunteered that Crossroads would put explanatory information in a newsletter in the near future for individuals to use in writing letters to Darren England, Stormwater & General Permits Unit, Division of Water Quality, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1617.)
Stormwater runoff causes problems in other situations as well. As little as two inches of rain closes some the shellfish sites in the County, damaging the environment and putting fishermen out of work.

David Mayes, Stormwater Services Manager in Wilmington, NC, then discussed ways to improve water quality, prevent flooding and meet the requirements of the Phase II program based on his extensive experience in Wilmington.
He explained the difference between point source and non point source water pollution. The former is generally thought of as that which comes out of a pipe, as at a factory, whereas the latter is dispersed, like stormwater runoff from parking lots or the roofs of buildings. He noted that stormwater runoff is a major source of water pollution in the US today. This runoff carries all kinds of pollutants that the water washes off of the surfaces that it travels over. In the natural environment, there is little runoff because the water seeps down through the soil on which it falls and pollutants are filtered out.
He discussed two examples of runoff problems that he had dealt with in the Wilmington area. The first was Hewlett’s Creek. It had been shellfish waters, but now the majority of the creek is closed to shellfishing following the construction of many homes around the creek. Contamination is usually measured by the concentration of fecal coliform bacteria, which is now very high in this creek. It was found in this case that a major source of the bacteria was from pets, although other sources are often present such as wild animal feces and malfunctioning septic systems. Management practices may be structural or non-structural. To control contamination due to pets, laws are sometimes promulgated that require owners to carry a bag and collect pet feces; this would constitute a non-structural method. So called Best Management Practices (BMPs) are structural, such as plantings of grass, shrubs and trees in areas through which the water must pass (thus being absorbed and filtered) before arriving in a creek of other body of water. Mr. Mayes stated that solutions to the problems caused by stormwater runoff are often relatively easy to determine, but that getting the solutions carried out may be quite difficult.
The second example was the Long Leaf Creek Project. This had been a nice little (1500 feet), fordable creek, but kudzu had invaded, choking the creek and increasing its depth to 10 to 15 feet in some places. To correct the problem, the high stream banks were removed and replaced with new banks and vegetation. The total cost was about $1.5 million.

So, how to deal with problems.
  1. Develop a comprehensive plan.
  2. Do a site design. It is possible to design a plot that has as many lots as the usual plan would have but in which the lots are smaller and the remaining land can be used for other advantageous purposes, such as parks, grassy swales and rain gardens, all of which can aid in handling stormwater runoff.
  3. BMPs and Remediation. Construct wetlands, bioretension areas/rain gardens, and have a drainage maintenance program.
  4. Public Awareness Efforts. Educate about environmentally sensitive practices in schools, civic groups, etc.. Develop a demonstration park site. While carrying out educational outreach, study the effectiveness of your public awareness programs.

The Moral of the Story. Structural BMPs after disaster has struck are very costly. Plan ahead. Make the public, government officials and administrators, and developers aware of non-point source pollution (stormwater runoff) and methods to alleviate it.

[Summary by Ted Odell, Crossroads Board Secretary]

Carteret County Crossroads
PO Box 155
Beaufort, NC 28516

March 12, 2003

At our annual meeting (summarized in NL #101), one of our speakers, Frank Tursi of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, issued a call for action. He asked that the attendees write letters to the Environmental Management Committee about the permanent rule regarding EPA’s Phase II NPDES Stormwater Program. He reported the EMC wanted input on two matters: (1) How best to establish a seamless program that doesn’t have gaps in geographic coverage; and (2) How to define low-density development.

It was clear that many of the attendees did not have sufficient background on the topic. Crossroads agreed to elaborate on the issues so members can decide for themselves what they think how about the topics and whether or not they wished to write to the EMC.

How to Establish Seamless Geographic Coverage
On the matter of geographic coverage of the program, as stated in an earlier newsletter, North Carolina county highways are “owned “ by the state, not the county. Therefore counties have argued they have no responsibility for stormwater management for roads in their counties. Nonetheless, the proposed rules identify several alternatives that attempt to require counties to better manage stormwater discharges, an approach Crossroads supports. The program should cover counties because they do own and operate stormwater drainage systems in schools, airports, community colleges and hospitals. In addition, counties regulate stormwater management through their subdivision and zoning ordinances, and stormwater doesn’t recognize jurisdictional boundaries. Finally, all local governments should be treated equally under this program so that municipalities and counties work together for the total

community to benefit. New development won't be able to leapfrog outside city boundaries just to avoid stormwater regulations, thus creating more water quality problems that will have to be fixed by taxpayers at a later date. All local governments (whether a town, city or a county) should obtain permits under this program if stormwater is a threat to water quality and the uses of our coastal waters from fishing and swimming.

How to Define Low Density Development
The other matter on which the EMC needs input is the matter of how to define low-density development. Presently a development where impervious surface (roads, driveways, roofs, etc) is 25% or less is considered “low density” and does not call for special stormwater management systems. Studies have established that water quality declines to the degree that the built upon area of a development exceeds 10%. This is because when development exceeds about 10% impervious surface, the land is no longer able to infiltrate stormwater. Instead of soaking into the ground, stormwater runs over the surface carrying bacteria, nutrients and other pollutants into downstream waters. If development generates surface runoff, the concept of the rules is that such stormwater should be handled through a drainage system that protects downstream water quality. However, low density projects are exempt from this requirement. Thus, the 25% built upon definition is in fact a huge loophole in the rules through which enormous amounts of pollution is running. Given the state and trend of our water quality, it seems to Crossroads that 25% clearly doesn’t work and a limit of something closer to 12% is more appropriate. Any development that exceeds 12% built upon would be required to manage its stormwater in a manner so as not to degrade downstream water quality.
The other density issue up for consideration is the number of dwelling units allowed per acre. Crossroads is aware of many “green” residential developments where clustering of dwelling units offers a great advantage in environmental protection. Because of the increase of vegetated open space within the total project and decrease in amount of impervious interior roads, we judge that “clustering”, allowing more units per acre compared to traditional designs, would be a good option where appropriate.
Even with that, we hope that counties and municipalities would review their ordinances and subdivision rules with an eye toward making them more environmentally friendly. This goal could be reached by ensuring that the best conservation designs are used to take advantage of the natural features such as wetlands and natural vegetated buffers. Further, requirements for parking spaces, curbs, side walks, road width, etc. should be carefully evaluated for stormwater pollution impact given the nature, function and locale of the development.

Your Letters Are Important
So we believe the EMC needs to hear from you. Let EMC know that it needs to adopt a stormwater program that works to protect and restore water quality so that our coast is a safe place to swim, harvest oysters and clams, and catch fish.

To read the full text of the draft permanent stormwater rules, go to:
USPS mail: Darren England. Stormwater and General Permits Unit, Division of Water Quality, 1617 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1617

Comment period ends May 16, 2003. Public Hearings: 4/7/03, 7 pm, Wilmington (New Hanover County Northeast Regional Library) and 4/28/03, 7pm, Washington (Civic Center).

Crossroads News

Thank you for your enthusiastic response to our last appeal for prompt payment of dues. Many of you sent in dues for which we are grateful. We still hope that all those recipients of our newsletter who have not paid dues will do so. As we said last newsletter, you are our only means of support. We still urge everyone to bring potential new members to our attention. We always need more members.
Ted Odell, one of our long-time Board members and Secretary of Crossroads, was honored as a 2002 Main Street Champion at the NC Main Street Annual Awards Dinner in Salisbury for his work with the Downtown Morehead City Revitalization Association. Congratulations Ted and a big thank you for all you do for your community!
Dick Bierly, Irv Hooper, Don Hoss and Mike Orbach were reelected to the Board at the Annual meeting. At the last regular meeting new officers were elected for the coming year. They are President, Irv Hooper, Vice President, Bruce McCutcheon and Secretary, Ted Odell.
Dick Bierly, who has been President for the last six years, has been elected to Vice President of the NC Coastal Federation. We all thank Dick for his dedicated service. He has done a great job and we will miss his leadership but fortunately he will remain an active Board member of Crossroads.
As Dick mentioned at the Annual Meeting, we are always interested in hearing from members who would like to take a more active role in Crossroads by working with the Board. If you are interested let us hear from you.
Welcome to new Life Members Mary Kanyha, Herb and Jan Stanford, Edmund and Elizabeth Dowling, Doug and Nancy Wolfe, Ted Uhlman (the first President of Crossroads), Patricia Bartell, Keith Rittmaster and Vicki Thayer, and John and Marianne Davis. We are grateful for the continued support of these dedicated members.