NEW HANOVER COUNTY — High levels of pollutants in the Pages Creek watershed are causing water contamination, increased flooding and economic hardship for local shellfish industries, according to recent water quality reports. the water
In violation of the United States Environmental Policy Agency’s Clean Water Act, Pages Creek contains high levels of fecal coliforms, and nearby development has exponentially increased runoff, further polluting local water quality. New Hanover County and local organizations are working to mitigate these effects by establishing a plan for the 5,025-acre area.
Cape Fear Resource Conservation and Development (CFRCD), New Hanover County Soil and Water Conservation District (NHCSWCD), and Moffatt & Nichol (a Raleigh-based civil engineering firm) signed Monday a memorandum of understanding with the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners to implement a watershed restoration program.
The intent is to seek approval from the North Carolina Division of Water Resources, to allow the county to qualify for EPA319 federal grant funding opportunities. SWCD County Executive Dru Harrison explained at the meeting that the plan will detail what can be done to improve water quality, and that funding from the EPA grant would help implement it. this strategy.
The state’s Land Land and Water Fund has given the project $75,000 to begin the planning process, which Moffatt and Nichol’s senior coastal planner Dawn York says should be complete by spring 2023.
The protocol also ensures that all stakeholders involved in the planning process and the community are on the same page. Cape Fear RCD Executive Director Danielle Darkangelo explained that keeping the community informed about the plan, sources and use of funding and the roles of those involved is critical to the success of the project.
While eight organizations are involved in the planning, the workload will fall to the county’s Soil and Water District, CFRCD and Moffatt & Nichol, the technical lead in developing the plan.
Of the 12 watersheds in New Hanover County, Pages Creek is considered to have the most severe problems and contains 17.8% impermeable surface cover. Located between Middle Sound Loop Road and Bay Shore, Pages ultimately empties into the Intracoastal Waterway, its contaminants then spilling into the ocean.
Based on scientific data from water monitoring reports, Pages Creek has been designated as a target watershed in the Soil and Water District Strategic Plan, along with Hewlett’s Creek. The area is densely populated, with approximately 8,000 inhabitants in its coverage area; it also faces frequent flooding.
“Water quality and quantity have become such big issues and have been the subject of a lot of rhetoric, but there haven’t been a lot of active projects to solve or find out what’s going on,” said Darkangelo.
The high levels of fecal coliforms in the region come from human waste, but their destination point is still unclear, Harrison said. With 27,000 registered dogs in the county, there are also 12.5 tons of animal waste produced per day that pours into local waterways.
Faecal bacteria aren’t the only pollutants creating problems. Throughout the state, sediment particles are abundant, and when agitated in the waterbeds, other pollutants cling to these particles.
“Imagine this: Say you’re a fish that lives in this water,” Harrison said. “When you have multiple pollutants in the water, it starts to have a huge impact on wildlife. Fish cannot breathe. It’s like we’re breathing in smog. So either they’ll leave or they won’t breed again.
The impact on shellfish in waterways is also significant and growing across the state. Farmers can lease areas in North Carolina watersheds to commercially grow and harvest shellfish. When pollutants are high, the NC Division of Marine Fisheries places a temporary halt on harvesting or issues a closure of that location.
“The state is trying to encourage people to harvest more shellfish, especially oyster farming, so that we have a bigger industry to contribute more of our regional food source,” Darkangelo said. “It’s a very sustainable, cost-effective industry that supports economic development. So closing them is quite a problem; this could impact the livelihoods of producers and the surrounding community.
As such, oyster farming has been shut down in many areas, including Pages Creek. Oysters are filter feeders, so when a person consumes an oyster harvested from a polluted watershed, they can become very ill from the pollutants leaching into the shells.
“[Nearly] every tidal creek in New Hanover County has a spot that’s closed to shellfish harvesting,” Harrison said.
The watershed restoration plan will dictate specific actions to reduce the effects of polluted waters. Similar to the Bradley and Hewletts Creek watershed restoration plans, sponsored by the City of Wilmington and the NC Coastal Federation, the Pages Creek plan will put in place “grey and green infrastructure” to help infiltrate more stormwater. in the area to reduce flooding.
Gray infrastructure refers to traditional man-made facilities – such as levees, roads, pipes and water treatment plants – to slow the flow of water. Green infrastructure restores or mimics the natural water cycle and allows water to be absorbed by the ground. Many factors, including space, floor type, money, all dictate the course of action needed. A combination approach is usually chosen to implement the most effective solution, Harrison explained.
Examples of projects in other local watersheds range from backyard rain gardens to large-scale projects, such as the conversion of UNCW parking lots to permeable surfaces.
“The goal is to reduce the hydrograph,” Harrison said, “the measurement each year of how much water has soaked into the ground and how much has flowed into the stream.”
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