Carteret County Crossroads

NEWSLETTER # 85, JUNE 2000 PO BOX 155, BEAUFORT, NC 28516. 252-726-6663 www.carteretcrossroads.org

IMPROVING WATER QUALITY THE EASY WAY

The following article was prepared by our Board member, Bruce McCutcheon. Much of the information was presented by Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center in a recent talk to several coastal environmental organizations.
The federal Clean Water Act requires states to provide the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with a list of all bodies of water that do not meet federal standards for being clean enough to support their designated best use. Maximum allowable pollution levels are determined for a particular body of water, say a river used for swimming and recreational fishing, and if pollutants exceed that limit, then the body of water is put on the list. Shellfish beds are particularly subject to listing because the pollution limit, in terms of coliform concentration, is so low. Every two years North Carolina provides EPA this accounting, the so-called 303(d) list, and does so conscientiously. But the obligation of the State goes beyond a mere listing of troubled waters. It must make a continuing effort to reduce pollution loads into the impaired waters until the standards for attaining "best use" status are met. If the pollutants affecting the river are coming from a defective sewer treatment plant, for example, then that plant must be fixed. How well is North Carolina doing in meeting this obligation to reduce the number of impaired bodies of water? According to its most recent draft 303(d) list, very well, indeed! Approximately 3/4 of the bodies of water on the 1998 list have been removed from consideration. What great remedial effort has produced this wonderful outcome? Well, through the tapping of keyboards and the crunching of numbers, the Division of Water Quality has achieved an astonishing 75% reduction in listed bodies of water. DWQ challenged the initial ratings, "updated" biological information, asserted that total maximum daily loads of pollutants cannot be monitored or are inappropriate, and redefined what is a "pollutant". Thus, the federally imposed burden to improve impaired waters has been substantially lifted by reducing the size of the list. In other words, except for a small percentage of the 1998 listed waters, where corrective action has produced a genuine reduction in pollutant load, the great majority of the waters are being removed from EPA's 303(d) list through linguistic legerdemain rather than real improvement. So, what looks like a great triumph for environmental stewardship turns out to be largely a sham. Some legal experts believe that EPA will be unhappy with North Carolina's latest 303(d) list and may apply pressure for relisting and valid improvements in water quality. As it stands now, however, the State's Division of Water Quality is giving the impression, through its 303(d) listing changes, that water quality in North Carolina is getting remarkably better.

STORMWATER MANAGEMENT PHASE II

Since the Clean Water Act was passed, the water quality of the nation has improved largely as a result of the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). Under this system, permits have been required for point source discharges --those from a sewer treatment plant or industrial effluent pipes--to our waters. EPA has found that much of the remaining pollution is from storm water runoff. In 1990, Phase I of the storm water program required NPDES permits for storm water runoff from medium and large storm water sewer systems serving cities of 100,000 or greater population.
Since our waters still do not meet Clean Water Act requirements, the Storm Water Phase II program is coming into effect over the next few years. These rules will require NPDES permits for storm water systems of much smaller communities and construction sites. It would appear that most of the communities in our area will eventually be covered under Phase II requirements and will be required to secure NPDES permits for their storm water systems.
We expect to see a lot of opposition from local government officials as these requirements are phased in. We must all realize that if we want the good water quality on which our economy depends, we must take action to control polluted runoff.

STORMWATER AT YOUR HOUSE

Lisa Wimpfheimer, the Horticultural Extension Agent at Carteret County Center, N.C. Cooperative Extension in Beaufort, has contributed the following. The mission of N.C. Cooperative Extension is to provide research based information to the public. Send questions to: N.C. Cooperative Extension, Courthouse Square, Beaufort, NC 28516 or fax: 252-728-1420. You can also visit the Extension website and e-mail in your questions at http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/carteret. The next time you are home during a rain shower, grab your umbrella or rain jacket and head outdoors to watch where the rainwater goes. Does water soak into the ground, or does it flow quickly over paved areas into ditches or storm drains?
Stormwater is unavoidable but the polluting effects can be reduced around your home or business area. The problem is that the flow of surface water picks up and moves many pollutants with it. Simple things help, such as washing your car on the lawn, where water and soaps can soak into the soil. The bacteria in the soil will help to breakdown small amounts of automotive fluids and other materials washed off your vehicle. However, disposal of petroleum products should be in an approved manner.
Sediment and pet waste are two of the most overlooked, because they are commonly seen or thought of as "natural." Erosion of soil is a large problem, and the establishment of grass or plants to hold it in place is a first step. Erosion fences are mandated on construction sites, but are a temporary measure. When pet waste is washed into our waterways, the waste decays, using oxygen and sometimes releasing ammonia. Low oxygen levels and ammonia combined with warm temperatures can kill fish. You can make a difference by installing a pet waste digester, burying it in the yard and keeping it away from impervious surfaces. Again, this will allow it to be broken down in the soil instead of washed into the rivers and sounds. Pesticides and fertilizers should be applied at rates listed on the label. And donÕt apply them right before a heavy rain is predicted. They will be washed away before they can do their job. Only use pesticides when necessary and do not spray when you are not certain of the pest problem. Grass clippings are a little recognized source of nitrogen; however, they can cause algal blooms in ponds. When blown into the street, they are quickly washed into storm drains, which flow to our waterways. Mulching mowers that chop grass blades into tiny pieces allow them to be composted quicker as they lay on the soil surface. Or bag your clipping and use them in a large compost pile. These are just a few simple ways everyone can reduce the negative effects of storm water runoff. WonÕt you help to maintain our high quality waterways?

MISCELLANEOUS

The Coast Alliance has asked us to publicize a new publication, Muddy Waters; The Toxic Wasteland Below America's Oceans, Coasts, Rivers and Lakes. It is written by Beth Milleman and published by Coast Alliance, Clean Ocean Action and the American Littoral Society. If you are interested you can contact the Coast Alliance at: 600 Pennsylvania Ave., SE, Suite 340, Washington, DC 20003. We know from the research of Dr. Courtney Hackney how degraded the sediments below our estuaries are. Here is a broader view of the topic.

CROSSROADS NEWS

We apologize for the problem with your last mailing label. The current status of your membership was supposed to be the first line of your label. It didnÕt work out that way. We expect this issue to be correct so let us know if there are any problems.

Members are welcome at all Board Meetings, held the second Thursday of each month at 7:30 PM in the Conference Room at the Duke Marine Lab Auditorium. .At the last Board meeting, Bruce McCutcheon was elected Vice President. He will also be helping with the Newsletter.

Thank you to new Life Member Donogh Phillips. Also, we apologize to Life Member Mary Dawson for listing her as Nancy Dawson in the last Newsletter.

Thanks to the Beaufort Inn and Bruce and Katie Ethridge for providing free lodging for one of the speakers at the last Annual Meeting.