Listen to the scientists

Published 5:10 pm Thursday, August 25, 2016

Want proof that the North Carolina General Assembly should not weaken state laws that protect the state’s waters? Just remember the recent algae blooms and fish kills occurring in the Pamlico-Tar River and its tributaries.

Weakening environmental regulations so it’s cheaper for industries, large corporate farms and others to do business and not be “overburdened” with complying with those regulations at the expense of cleaner waters — which serve as nursery areas for much of the aquatic life on which the eastern part of the state depends — does not make much, if any, sense. It would be easy for the legislature to weaken environmental regulations, but it would not be the right thing to do. If anything, it could be argued that the state’s environmental laws, especially those dealing with water quality, should be made even stronger.

The presence of huge algae blooms and fish kills in area waters, plus the issuance of advisories not to swim in some area waters because of high levels of potentially dangerous bacteria, is evidence that all is not well with the quality of area waters.

Earlier this year, a version of the North Carolina Senate’s state budget called existing programs to protect the state’s waters as “flawed, economically irresponsible and scientifically unjustified” and called for development of a new statewide management strategy with emphasis on research of methods treating already nutrient-laden water.

Jess Hawkins, former executive assistant to the director of North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, thinks otherwise. In an interview earlier this summer, Hawkins said water quality now, when compared to the decade between the late 1980s and late 1990s, improved dramatically — a direct result of all the measures implemented to reduce the influence of nutrient runoff into the waterways.

“It is my belief that it has slowed those cumulative impacts down,” Hawkins said then. “But it’s hard for the state to measure cumulative impacts.”

It’s a safe bet the scientists, not the legislators, know what’s best for our waters.

Science, not politics, should determine the best ways to protect the state’s waterways.