New rules make sense

Published 5:50 pm Tuesday, April 15, 2008

By Staff
The quality of our coastal waters concerns all residents in this area and attracts many visitors and their dollars. Much uninformed rhetoric has been heard about the proposed enhanced stormwater rules for the coastal counties.
I will attempt to offer the esteemed reader a few facts and initiate a more informed public discussion than we have seen in the past.
The scientific literature on stormwater pollution indicates that when any area is covered with more than 10 percent impervious cover, the watershed linked to this area will show declining water quality of its rivers, streams and creeks. Both sub-aquatic vegetation and marine animal life begin to suffer. Studies by North Carolina and South Carolina researchers link impervious cover to beach and shellfish-bed closures because of bacterial contamination. These polluted areas threaten not only animal and plant life, but frequently result in mandatory closings for human activities like swimming. Any construction of homes, roads, parking lots or shopping centers disrupts the natural drainage of rainwater. Wastes that are carried away with the stormwater were once filtered by vegetated landscapes like forests and wetlands. Once an area has been built up, these wastes directly wash off roofs, driveways, streets and parking lots and are directed via swales, drainage ditches and pipes to our creeks, which run into rivers, which in turn feed estuarine waters and coastal areas — areas irreplaceably valuable as fish nurseries.
A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council revealed that in 2006 pollution-related closings and health advisories at U.S. beaches were more numerous than ever. According to its report, “Across the country, there were more than 25,000 days of closings and advisories in 2006 at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches — an increase of 28 percent from 2005. Heavy rainfall that washed sewage, debris and other pollutants from cities and towns into coastal waters was a major cause of beach closures.”
It is clear from the scientific literature that an impervious cover of 24 percent devoid of structural stormwater controls will degrade streams and take them to the brink of severe impairment. In its current form, the coastal stormwater rules allow for a 30 percent impervious cover with no structural stormwater control. Beginning between a 25 to 30 percent impervious cover, stream quality begins to suffer to the extent that the waterways have to be deemed “nonsupporting” their customary uses. The changes to the coastal stormwater rules are aimed at correcting this problem. It has to be noted here, that for many years these rules have been the norm in “upland” North Carolina counties without slowing growth and development.
Those in this region who believe that stormwater pollution is not a locally created problem are sadly mistaken. One only needs to look at the 2008 Report on Impaired Waters (a determination the Clean Water Act requires the state to make every other year) to note a disturbing trend in the water quality of the Pamlico River. For the first time ever, Bath Creek will be listed as a degraded water body. The entire Pamlico River to the mouth of the Pungo River will also be listed as impaired as are Blounts Bay, North Creek and many other local creeks.
In order to protect the value of our coastal waters, coastal-county residents need to urge the N.C. General Assembly to allow the revised coastal stormwater rules to go into effect in August 2008 without changes. Furthermore, the perennial argument of some that these new rules will make it impossible to develop specific lots is probably invalid. With the appropriate on-site stormwater management provision like “rain gardens, pervious surfaces for driveways, cisterns and like measures these lots are still buildable. This form of environmentally sensitive development has been recognized and is being marketed as low-impact development. It is generating lots of interest from consumers and progressive developers who have found that under many circumstances the techniques involved in low-impact development can actually increase the number of buildable lots while decreasing the infrastructure-development requirements.
Last fall, four public hearings were held on the draft rules. The majority of the comments received from the public, the scientific community, and the state and federal resource agencies strongly supported the implementation of the revised rules. The state has put forth a compromise bill that will work to improve the quality of our coastal waters while maintaining the ability for sustainable economic development.