Residents should steer clear of contaminated river

Published 1:11 am Monday, October 17, 2016

Though no sampling has been done as yet, experts are warning people to stay out of the river because of the many contaminants floodwaters contain.

“There’s just so much stormwater coming in. It’s just pulling in anything and everything that wasn’t consolidated,” said Jill Paxson, an environmental senior specialist with North Carolina Department of Water Resources. “Our best bet is you just stay out of the water.”

Since Hurricane Matthew stormed through the region Oct. 8-9, eastern North Carolina waterways have been inundated with runoff from torrential rain that comes on the heels of a year of unusually high rainfall.

On Oct. 9, North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries sent out notice that commercial fishermen up the Carolina coast are prohibited from selling shellfish from local waters, stating that waters in Beaufort, Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, Dare, Hyde, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico and Pender counties are polluted.

According to officials, untreated sewage spills have taken place in Princeville, Tarboro and Greenville — all upstream from Washington — in addition to the 1 million gallons of untreated wastewater that spilled into Jack’s Creek in Washington on Oct. 9-10. The spill at the Fifth and Respess streets lift station was ultimately caused by the city’s two-day loss of power: a backup generator at the station failed and a smaller pump brought in could not handle the flow in a system overcome with stormwater.

Marla Sink, a public information officer for Division of Water Resources, said Friday it could not be determined how much wastewater has spilled in Princeville and Tarboro.

“We do not have any amounts — the thing is, they’re under water,” Sink said.

As the Tar River crested Friday in Greenville and floodwaters began to slowly recede over weekend, Division of Water Resources will begin sampling the water to determine what health risks exposure might pose.

“We’ll have samples Monday and Tuesday when people can get in there and actually assess it,” Sink said.

Paxson said the river will need some time to recover, and weather could be a factor in how quickly the water rights itself.

“The Pamlico, right now, is high; it’s roiling. If we get northeast winds, or east winds, it’s going to slow down the ability to get all that water out,” Paxson said.

But until then, people need to steer clear of the Tar, Pamlico and Pungo rivers, she said.

“Bacteria, fungus; we’ve got dead animal matter, drowned chickens, fecal matter from wildlife. It is a conglomeration of stuff in the water,” Paxson said. “I would be worried to even get in it.”