David A. Emmerling is executive director of the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation. Heather Jacobs is the foundation’s Riverkeeper.
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Cesspool: To be or not to be, that is the question?
Judging from the statements of some Beaufort County Commissioners and folks sharing their views in the Washington Daily News Sound Off column, the conclusion is that we swim, fish and boat, in our neighbor’s toilet! You must agree that it is not a very pretty image, but does it represent the reality of our river?
The answer to that question is a resounding “no.” Are these the same folks that are interested in the economic development of the county? If folks believe the river is a cesspool, shouldn’t they want to see that the most stringent regulations are in place that will aid in improving water quality? If the damage to our public relations and the county’s economic-development potential can be set aside, what is the reality of the quality of Beaufort County waters?
The answer to that question depends on the yardstick that you use to evaluate the river. What variable or variables are the critics using to reach the conclusion that our incredible river is a cesspool? If it is nutrient pollution, a recent study with its monitoring point just up river from Washington demonstrated a decrease in the nutrient load that the river is carrying. If it is fecal coliform, the existing monitoring that the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation is doing demonstrates little fecal coliform present in our waters except following a significant rain event. That is exactly the type of pollution that the more stringent stormwater regulations would prevent. The fecal coliform that closes our shellfishing grounds originates in close proximity to the oyster bed’s location. It does not travel great distances.
The problem: polluted stormwater runoff from our lawns, parking lots, roadways, roofs and farm fields puts harmful levels of nutrients, heavy metals, sediment and pathogens into our waterways. Such pollution reduces the quality of our drinking water, increases the mortality and disease of fish and seafood and leads to unsafe swimming and shellfish-harvesting waters. The convenience of denying our responsibility in protecting our water by blaming upstream polluters is an unproductive, even self-destructive, course. Upstream municipalities and counties are required to treat and control their polluted stormwater runoff from new construction, just like the city of Washington and Beaufort County. Pointing the finger elsewhere increases the negative impact of the problems we face in the Pamlico River and Sound. We are part of the problem and must be a large part of the solution. We must be leaders in finding solutions.
Duke University’s Nicholas Institute has offered several sustaining and common sense solutions to our ongoing monitoring, protecting and improving of our river. The following are a few excerpted highlights.
These recommendations will help us deal with our water needs and impact the quality of our local water. We have the potential to add to the list in more specific detail.
Remember that growth for growth’s sake is the mentality of a cancer cell. Growth for growth’s sake will destroy us and our environment.
The Pamlico-Tar River Foundation strives to monitor, protect and restore our river and sound. We need your support to continue these efforts.