|At Coastal Carolina Riverwatch, we watch what is happening on land in order to see what might influence our waterways. Coastal NC faces the challenge of balancing our growth with the damage it will do to the environment.
From Beaufort to Topsail there are swaths of wooded areas being clear cut for structures. This removal of trees contributes to the number one pollutant in US waters: Sediment. Sediment falls under the category of Stormwater Runoff and is one of the top concerns identified by our Water Quality for Fisheries study
Vegetation holds dirt in place with extensive root systems and the more native plants there are the more soil they can hold. Elderberry bushes and Silky Willow can even hold the sides of river banks together and keep the ground from falling in. The leaves of trees and other plants are important in slowing down rain water so soil is less disturbed when hit by water droplets, and the stems of plants slow water that moves along the surface of the land and picks up loose earth along the way.
Without that vegetation, water can more easily displace soil and carry it into water bodies. Once sediment is in the water it can cause some serious damage to the ecosystem.
Bottom dwelling organisms like oysters and sea grass can get smothered and buried by settling dirt.
Sediment suspended in the water can block light and deprive plants of energy. Cloudy water reduces visibility and make it difficult for fish to find food. Sediment loading events can happen naturally but dramatically increases in frequency and severity once the natural vegetation is removed.
According the NC Department of Environmental Quality, uncontrolled soil erosion is a major concern in North Carolina, because of its effect on the environment. In 1973 the General Assembly passed the North Carolina Sedimentation Pollution Control Act that requires anyone involved in land-disturbing activities to take precautions to reduce soil erosion and prevent damage to waterways.
The law includes five mandatory standards:
- prior plan approval
- slope stabilization
- establishment of groundcover
- stream buffer zones
- follow the approved plan
An erosion control plan is required, for disturbances larger than one acre, at least 30 days prior to beginning the land disturbing activity and must be approved before the land-disturbing activity can begin. Failure to file an erosion control plan or to follow an approved plan can result in fines up to $5000 per day. Willful noncompliance is considered a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5000. An injunction or stop work order may also be issue.
At the coast, we are all too familiar with impacts to water quality being the cost-of-business for some, while NCDEQ offices have very limited resources to enforce State regulations. Coastal region inspectors are currently covering multiple coastal jurisdictions due to staffing shortages. At Coastal Carolina Riverwatch, we are building a team of local advocates to help bring awareness of the ecological and economical benefits to low-impact development and the high-cost of slash and burn practices.
What can you do?
- Attend municipal and County planning board meetings to learn about upcoming developments and advocate for sustainable low-impact development practices.
- Support local companies that use sustainable practices with a priority to reduce impacts to water quality.
- Advocate for stronger policies and enforcement.
- Report erosion and sediment issues to Coastal Carolina Riverwatch at RileyL
Don’t assume that economic interests and environmental interests are in conflict. “The idea of development vs. conservation is counterproductive to both ends. With that said, getting to a more sustainable future will rely on our ability to secure both thriving communities and healthy ecosystems.
We can best achieve this if developers prioritize low-impact practices, if local, State, and federal policies require sustainable low-impact development practices, if local, State, and federal regulations are enforced, and if we continue to learn from low-impact development research that will benefit our community and ecology.” – Lisa Rider, CCRW Executive Director
If you notice water looking different around development, let us know – click the red button below.