Spills add up in local waterways

Published 7:17 pm Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Each dot on the online ArcGIS map represents a report to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality of water-quality incidents reported during and after Hurricane Florence. Eastern North Carolina is covered in orange dots.

Upriver of Washington, a report was made by the City of Greenville, of multiple sanitary sewer overflows in Greenville, in which wastewater entered the waterways via an inundated sewer system. Downriver, Belhaven reported a 700,000 gallon wastewater spill to DEQ; Aurora, a 100,000-gallon spill.

The Belhaven spill occurred when the town’s wastewater treatment plant lost power for 12-14 hours during the storm, according to the report.

“It’s my understanding that this was a minor incident — it was minor enough that we didn’t have to call in additional crews to clean up. It was something that our guys were able to clean up inhouse,” said Belhaven town Manager Lynn Davis, adding that the department consists of a three-man crew.

Contact with floodwaters is discouraged by public health officials, as water can carry a variety of contaminants, ranging from runoff of fertilizers and pesticides from fields, to raw sewage entering the waterways from facilities taken off-line by lack of electricity or high water.

While DEQ has not released swim advisories for the area, the environmental watchdog Sound Rivers tested local waters for bacteria on Friday. Both the Tar River at Greenville and the Pamlico River at Washington had low bacteria levels considered safe for contact, according to the nonprofit’s online Swim Guide.

A series of state-issued swim advisories has plagued Belhaven — at the Pungo River access at the intersection of East Main and Tooley streets —  throughout the summer, however. Even with no swim advisory from the state, officials advise against contact with potentially contaminated water. The last time the site was tested by DEQ was Sept. 5.

“I can’t imagine that anyone would be swimming in the water after the storms anywhere,” Davis said.