NEWSLETTER # 98, September 2002 PO BOX 155, BEAUFORT, NC 28516. 252-726-6663
Guest Editorial: Buddy Milliken
[Buddy is the developer of Woodsong, an environmentally considerate neighborhood in Shallotte, NC. He was a panelist for Crossroads' Annual Meeting presentation, two years ago, on the topic of environmentally considerate development. Discussion of the details of his approach to environmental protection can be found at:
Is it possible to develop our land in a financially profitable way while preserving the health of the natural systems or are we in a generational sprint to spend our environmental income before the realization occurs that we have depleted our stock of natural capital? The deterioration of nature is insidious. Individual financial progress is much less so. So we have a problem with expressing environmental value in practical financial terms and in a meaningful temporal framework. Developing real estate is creating the habitats that human beings require to conduct their daily rites of life: places to live, work, shop, play and learn. So why does this noble work of human habitat creation cause such great angst?
The main reason seems to be that development is perceived to result in degraded, soulless landscapes and increasingly vitiated communities. Is it possible that development can become an act of repair and regeneration of the natural world as well as a catalyst for a re-engaged citizenry in public affairs? All things are possible.
The most critical goal of any business is to make money, to sustain itself. Currently, even the most enlightened development plan is admittedly a tremendous alteration to the land and the functioning of natural systems. To paraphrase a quote from my friend Mike Ortosky, "There is only one environment and we are not separate from the function of its natural systems." We have to sustain that which sustains us. Financial sustenance on a personal level and biological sustenance on a regional, ecological level is where some of the conflict occurs.
Im developing a neighborhood in Shallotte, N.C. called Woodsong. On a practical level, I try to look for the convergence of environmental, social and financial value. In Paul Hawkens The Ecology of Commerce, he describes commerce as potentially the most powerful engine of environmental quality we have, if directed properly. Unless our market system can be calibrated, so that the pursuit of profit is directly aligned with the achievement of nourishing social environments and environmental excellence, then the most advocates and regulators can do is marginal stemming of inevitable environmental degradation. Also, simply focusing on open space preservation without advocating for the inclusion of civic space means we may one day have a lot of undeveloped land with no communal ethic that informs the management of it for the common good. No civic space, no democracy.
It sounds heretical, but helping developers find profit can help attain a healthy environment. Educate consumers on why environmentally sensitive communities are beneficial and find incentives for developers to create ecological and civic value. Moral pleas and altruism will not get the job done. Money is human energy that can be directed. Externalized social and environmental costs need to be reconciled with a new method of accounting. It is unrealistic to expect a developer to intentionally make less money for environmental reasons whose rewards are macro-scale and hard to isolate in the present. Consider financial rewards and cultivated stewardship rather than place sole reliance on self-imposed austerity and regulation.
Preventing Environmental Degradation: Do BMPs Work?
[A controversial topic in environmental engineering circles is whether or not Best Management Practices (BMPs) and other kinds of designed environmental protections can adequately protect the environment from development impacts. A number of research studies present data that suggest that BMPs make little or no difference in environmental protection. Several other studies say otherwise. The following article, "Where Are the Bacteria Coming From", is by Dr. Nancy White, research professor in the School of Design, NC State University. She is engaged in several collaborative studies that measure the success of applying BMPs and site design principles in protecting surface waters from bacterial loading during stormwater runoff. One of her research sites is at Milliken's "Woodsong" development.---Ed.]
Where Are the Bacteria Coming From?
Surface waters in estuaries may contain both animal and human bacterial pollution. Furthermore, fecal coliform standards for shellfish harvesting are sometimes exceeded when no source of contamination can be identified. What are the actual sources (septic tanks, wildlife, pets, etc) for the bacteria? There is concern that lateral surficial ground water flow from septic tanks close to ditches may be the source, but the significant pet and Canadian goose population could also be the origin. Lack of understanding regarding the relative contribution by source confounds mitigation and long-term management strategies.
Two findings that have clearly emerged from discussions with shellfish regulators, industry representatives and scientific researchers in the southeastern U. S. are that: (1) water quality issues will drive shellfish research and policy in this region; and (2) there is a sore need for new analytical techniques that help differentiate human versus animal pollution sources. While differentiating animal versus human sources may not directly change the shellfish harvest area classification (e.g. approved versus harvest limited), it may play a significant role in the development of environmental management options to reduce bacterial pollution source inputs into a shellfish growing area. Knowing that a pollution source is human or animal may indicate to environmental managers entirely different methods for risk management (e.g. environmental engineering solutions to reduce human pollution inputs versus wildlife management options to reduce loadings from wildlife species).
What can be done about it? The complex nature of todays water quality problems means that the solutions are no longer confined within the domain of a single technical area. Local studies, initiated in 1996 to monitor flow and pollutant loading from several creeks in the area, involve a multi-disciplinary team including ecologists, hydrologists, engineers, and microbiologists from NC State, Duke, Shellfish Sanitation, UNC, and NOAA. The researchers have collected data that indicate high levels of bacteria loading during storm events and moderate levels during dry weather. Dye studies confirmed that surface water was moving quickly through the watershedsreaching the sound in just a few hours, allowing little time for bacterial die off. Door-to-door surveys found an interesting absence of malfunctioning septic systems, along with an abundance of pets and wildlife (White et al., 1999). Additionally, analysis of land use/land cover change indicated that hydrologic modifications (ditching), part of the standard land use management strategies used in the past, to be significantly correlated with the increased bacterial densities in the sound (White et al., 2000).
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Charleston Laboratory for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research (CCEHBR), has developed a number of analytical procedures that have been used in U.S. coastal waters to differentiate bacterial pollution sources. It is working with NC State, NC-DEH Shellfish Sanitation Program, and Duke University to begin a program to develop processes and methodologies for 1) initiating a library of bacterial types for North Carolina, 2) developing North Carolina resources and expertise to conduct MAR (Multiple Antibiotic Resistance) and ribotyping analyses; then applying these resources to 3) identify sources of bacterial densities, 4) examine the potential of these methods for developing loading calculations, and 5) direct mitigation and management strategies to reduce bacterial loading.
Given that the sources of bacteria appear to be diverse and significant, development of source identification techniques and watershed loading rates are needed to be able to locate, design and implement the appropriate BMPs. While septic tanks have not been completely exonerated, preliminary analyses indicate that the speed and volume of runoff from developed areas is a significant factor in the loading rate, and management techniques to protect water quality and public health will continue to be important.
Crossroads News: Thanks to Anne Logan and Sally Steele for becoming Life Members.