Bath Creek added to impaired-waters list|Cleanup action discussed at PTRF’s annual meeting

Published 6:30 pm Friday, September 18, 2009

Community Editor

The N.C. Division of Water Quality has added Bath Creek to its impaired-waters list because of nutrient and bacteria impairment.
The broad, shallow waterway joins the list for the first time. DWQ began monitoring the creek some 15 years ago.
Other waterways of the Pamlico River estuary on the most-recent list include the Pungo River, Pungo Creek, Pantego Creek, Broad Creek and Blounts Bay. That list, compiled from 2002 to 2007 and released in late 2008, is awaiting approval by the Environmental Protection Agency.
David Emmerling, executive director of the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, said Bath Creek serves as “the saddest and best example” of an impaired waterway in the estuary.
“That’s a little, red flag that there’s something going on there that we need to pay attention to,” said Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Heather Jacobs-Deck.
The nutrient and bacteria in the creek can most likely be attributed to continued development in the area and the large number of farms that feed agricultural runoff into the waterway, she said.
Another area considered to be afflicted by nutrient and bacteria impairment, according to DWQ, is the Washington waterfront.
“It is not uncommon for urban areas to have fecal problems, especially during rain events,” Deck said about the waterfront. “(The pollution) is likely to be runoff from the community.”
Upstream from the waterfront, the water quality throughout the upper Tar River (the section of the river west of the U.S. Highway 17 bridge at Washington is called the Tar River) is considered to be very good, according to DWQ.
“We still have a lot of rare species of plants and animals that reside around those creeks,” Jacobs-Deck said about the one of the river’s source waters.
The Pamlico-Tar River Foundation discussed DWQ’s most-recent findings at its annual meeting Tuesday at Beaufort County Community College. At that meeting, it was suggested that the foundation petition DWQ to designate waterways throughout the upper Tar River as outstanding-resource waters or high-quality waters. Such water designations are used to protect and preserve pristine waters.
“Some sections of the river are incredibly pristine,” Emmerling said, citing the Fishing Creek headwaters near Tarboro.
The foundation has made some “exploratory” phone calls to DWQ concerning such designations, Jacobs-Deck said.
She believes the state has made progress toward protecting its coastal waterways in the six years she has been working for the foundation. She attributes the progress to new stormwater regulations and environmental policies.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Jacobs-Deck said, adding that much more can be done through incentive-based cleanup programs that get individuals involved.
“As this region, and the whole of North Carolina, continues to grow, we just have to understand that with that growth, with that increase in population and with that increase in development, there might be some problems,” she said. “We need to understand sustainability.”
In the meantime, Jacobs-Deck said people should not let DWQ’s most-recent findings keep them out of the river.
“You certainly don’t want to be scared away from it,” she said. “I go swimming out there.”
She further advised to always be observant before jumping in waterways.
“If you noticeably see that your river or creek is green, it’s best to stay out of it for at least 48 hours until it clears up. Most of the time its fine, but it’s better to be safe than sorry,” she said.