North Carolina's Water Quality Improvement Accomplishments
Prepared by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. For more information, contact Don Reuter, Public Affairs, 919-715-4112.

Restore and Protect Rivers

Conservation Easements for Hog Farms – In November 1999, the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund (CWMTF) approved a $5.7 million grant award to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for a program titled, "Floodplain Management - Phase I: Purchase of Conservation Easements on Confined Swine Operations.” One of the major water quality concerns in the wake of the recent catastrophic floods in eastern North Carolina has been that considerable hog waste was washed from lagoons located in the 100-year floodplain. Siting new or expanded hog lagoons in the floodplain is now prohibited by state rules; but many of the existing hog farms located in the floodplain can and will restock and continue operation. This voluntary, incentive program will provide an economically viable option for livestock owners, who want to close and clean up lagoons in the floodplain.

30-Foot Buffer Rule -- In November 1999, the Coastal Resources Commission adopted a rule requiring structures to be built at least 30 feet from the water on coastal waterfront property. Buffers help water quality by filtering pollutants and nutrients from runoff. They also help protect houses and other structures against flooding. The rule applies to property along rivers, streams, sounds, marshes and other navigable waters in the 20 coastal counties. It does not apply along the oceanfront. Only water-dependent structures such as docks and piers may be built inside the 30-foot buffer. Single-family residences may be built inside the buffer on lots platted prior to June 1, 1999, if the lot is too small to accommodate the buffer. Pending a legislative review, the rule will take effect Aug. 1, 2000.

Stricter Enforcement for Operation and Maintenance of Wastewater Collection Systems -- Beginning July 1, 1999, enforcement decisions for municipal, industrial and other wastewater collection systems include operation and maintenance components. Evaluations can include whether operators conduct routine inspections, perform regular line cleaning and right-of way maintenance, keep records of problems and repairs, maintain back-up equipment for pump stations and implement a schedule to address ongoing problems. The policy is designed to prevent spills and overflows through early recognition of trouble spots and preventative maintenance.

1999 Sedimentation Act Amendments -- The 1999 General Assembly strengthened the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act by increasing the maximum fine for violations from $500 to 5,000 per day. Other amendments include:
  • Applicants for erosion and sedimentation control plans must be in compliance with federal and state water quality laws, regulations, and rules. In other words, a violation of any water quality requirement will be subject to the enforcement provisions of the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act;
  • Copies of all erosion and sedimentation control plans that include ditches for the purpose of lowering the groundwater table be must be provided to the Division of Water Quality. This provision will help the Division of Water Quality in protecting wetlands;
  • All plan review (permit) fees may be used to implement the Act, up to a limit of $50 per acre of land disturbance. Previously, the fees could not exceed one-third of the total program costs; and
  • The examination for licensing of contractors must include questions on the applicant's knowledge of the requirements of the Sedimentation Pollution Control Act and rules.
  • Additional Sedimentation Inspectors in 1999-2000 Budget -- The Hunt Administration wants to dramatically increase the number of inspections of construction sites. In response to Governor Hunt’s request, lawmakers appropriate funds in the 1999-2000 state budget for 10 additional sedimentation inspectors to prevent water pollution from construction run-off.

    Wetland Ditching & Draining Prohibition -- Wetlands protect water quality, reduce run-off and associated pollution, and preserve critical plant, animal and fish habitats. To enhance wetlands protection, North Carolina developed a policy to ensure the protection of downstream water quality through the regulation of activities such as ditching and draining, which degrade the ability of a wetland to provide environmental benefits. The policy is designed to provide long-term protection and restoration for wetland areas. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers this spring joined North Carolina regulators in seeking enforcement against illegal wetlands ditching and draining activities. Restoration orders have been issued and fines have been levied.

    Statewide Wetlands Strategy -- North Carolina is developing a Statewide Wetland and Stream Management Strategy. An advisory committee, composed of representatives from groups involved with wetland and water quality protection, is addressing strategies for both regulatory and non-regulatory issues. Among the interests represented are agriculture, forestry, environmental coalitions, industry, development, local governments and federal agencies.

    DOT-DENR Wetlands Agreement -- To improve wetland protection coordination, the state departments of Transportation and Environmental and Natural Resources in July signed a landmark agreement launching a partnership to protect the state's wetlands and streams. The agreement calls for the Department of Transportation to pay DENR's Division of Water Quality $17.5 million during the next seven years to locate wetlands and streams most in need of restoration in the state's 17 river basins. Also, during the next seven years, the DOT's Transportation Improvement Program sets aside $175 million to protect wetlands, restore streams and preserve wildlife habitat.

    Governor's Clean Water Budget for 1999
    The state budget, signed by Governor Hunt on June 30, 1999, includes an additional $19.9 million in critical funding support for Governor Hunt's crackdown on sediment pollution, for wetland and buffer protection efforts to restore water quality in North Carolina's rivers and other environmental and natural resource programs. The budget contains nearly $2.5 million for critical staff positions to prevent water pollution from construction runoff, protect groundwater, expand environmental education and conservation efforts and to carry out the new Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) to preserve 100,000 acres of buffers on eastern North Carolina waterways. It also includes $1 million to continue data management improvement efforts in the Division of Marine Fisheries. The funds will be used to enhance permitting and licensing programs and increase access to commercial landings and habitats and fisheries management data.

    Governor Hunt Signs Clean Water Act of 1999
    On July 21, 1999, Governor Hunt signed the Clean Water Act of 1999 into law. The Clean Water legislation extends the moratorium on new or expanded large-scale hog farms, raises the maximum water pollution fine from $10,000 per day to $25,000 per day and imposes public disclosure requirements for spills at wastewater treatment plants and from animal operations. The bill also authorizes the Environmental Management Commission to adopt temporary rules to protect water quality in the Cape Fear, Catawba and Tar-Pamlico River basins.

    Hog Lagoon Phaseout -- On April 22, 1999, Governor Hunt unveiled an aggressive plan to improve hog waste treatment and management in North Carolina by converting swine lagoon and sprayfields to more effective treatment systems. The plan includes three major components: closing and cleaning up inactive lagoons; establishing performance standards for new facilities; and converting active facilities to new technology. Hunt also urged lawmakers to extend the current moratorium on new and expanding swine facilities until July 2001. Hunt proposed the current moratorium, which the legislature passed in 1997. Lagoons and sprayfields can threaten the environment and public health through odor and pollution carried through the air, groundwater contamination, and spills and run-off to waterways.

    Clean Water Bonds - On Nov. 3, 1998, North Carolina voters overwhelmingly approved an $800 million clean water bond referendum. The clean water bonds provide $330 million in state grants to help local governments repair and improve water supply systems and wastewater collection and treatment, and to undertake water conservation and reuse projects. Another $300 million is to be made available in clean water loans. Many communities need help improving water supplies and water treatment systems. Outdated systems, some more than 70 years old, are allowing millions of gallons of untreated or partially treated wastewater to spill into the state’s rivers and streams. Nearly 100 communities cannot bring in new businesses, or jobs, because their wastewater systems are already operating at or above capacity. The N.C. Rural Economic Development Center has released a study of more than 650 water and sewer systems in mostly rural areas. The study found that the need for improving and repairing water and sewer systems is more than $11 billion.

    Governor Hunt's 1998 Clean Water Budget - On May 4, 1998, Governor Jim Hunt announced an aggressive clean water budget plan to continue the state's fight against pfiesteria and water pollution and to strengthen marine fisheries protection. The plan, included in the $77.7 million environmental budget passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Hunt, focuses on three key components -- prevention, detection and response -- to combat water pollution. The budget includes critical funding to reduce nutrients and sediments in North Carolina waterways, support the state's river basin planning program, provide more aggressive responses to fish kills and boost the state's compliance and enforcement efforts. Hunt's clean water initiative includes $3.3 million to improve river basin management; $3 million for monitoring, research and pfiesteria response; $2.3 million to reduce nonpoint pollutionand $710,813 to improve compliance with water quality laws, and $2.7 million to implement the Fisheries Reform Act passed by the General Assembly last year. The fisheries request will support the development of plans to improve our coastal fisheries habitats, improve data collection and management, and restore and protect fisheries stocks.

    Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program - On March 1, 1999, Governor Hunt and U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced a new $275 million agreement between the state and the federal government to reduce pollution in several major North Carolina waterways. Under the agreement signed on the banks of the Neuse River in Goldsboro, the USDA and North Carolina will offer farmers incentives to restore up to 100,000 acres of wetlands and streamside areas and habitats through the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). CREP uses financial incentives to encourage farmers to enroll highly environmentally sensitive land adjacent to targeted streams and rivers in 10-year to 15-year contracts. Under the contracts, farmers agree to remove the lands from agricultural production and plant and maintain long-term, resource-conserving vegetative covers. Under the program, land along streams and riverbanks in the Neuse, Tar-Pamlico and Chowan river basins and the Jordan Lake watershed will be planted with hardwood trees, grass filter strips, streamside buffers, vegetation serving as habitat for wildlife and restored wetlands. The vegetation and wetlands will filter contaminants from water runoff before it enters streams and rivers.

    Enhanced Enforcement Program - Governor Hunt appointed Wayne McDevitt as new DENR Secretary on August 1, 1997. On August 7, 1997, McDevitt directed the state's water quality programs to take stronger enforcement actions against polluters of North Carolina's waterways. The new enforcement policy includes the following:
    1) increased penalties for water quality violations;
    2) a plan for improved "bad actor" enforcement, including consideration of Department-level investigation capability for environmental crimes, streamlined permit revocation processes, increases in the statutory caps on penalties, and any other changes, that are crucial to having top-notch "bad actor" enforcement capability in water quality protection programs; and
    3) a review of how divisions now do water quality enforcement and otherwise encourage compliance and recommendations on steps that should be taken to strengthen compliance and enforcement policy for water quality.

    Governor's Water Quality Initiative - On May 1, 1997, Governor Jim Hunt announced a plan to make sure the state's waterways are cleaner and safer through stepped up monitoring of coastal waters, additional resources for pfiesteria research and a new Neuse River Rapid Response Team. Coastal recreational water monitoring efforts were expanded to include more than 235 sites. The Rapid Response Team is equipped to respond to fish kills quickly in order to better determine causes and conditions. The state had already funded $600,000 to support studies of potential health problems and causes of pfiesteria when the Governor earmarked an additional $638,000 for equipment, improved facilities and a national information bank at the Water Resources Research Institute. On March 20, 1998, Governor Hunt announced an aggressive plan in preparation for the coming fish kill season. The governor allocated $2.9 million for:
    - a rapid response team for the Tar-Pamlico;
    - additional flyovers to spot fish kills, sediment pollution and algal blooms;
    - additional pfiesteria research;
    - a public education campaign about pfiesteria,
    - and warning signs along estuarine waters to advise people to avoid dead, dying or sick fish.

    Federal Pfiesteria Funds Workshop - In 1997, the U.S. Congress appropriated $13 million in federal funds for research into the environmental processes that facilitate and regulate harmful algal blooms in the coastal ocean, with particular emphasis on pfiesteria and related species. DENR co-sponsored with the Department of Health and Human Services a workshop January 15, 1998, to bring together federal officials involved in the grant-making process with interested North Carolinians to discuss the variety of newly available funds and plans for their distribution and use. The workshop was designed to facilitate a productive dialogue on a range of available funds and funding needs and to ensure that North Carolina plays a significant part in developing solutions to issues presented by the presence of toxic pfiesteria in our nation's coastal waters. Thus far, the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have committed $450,000 from the available funds to research in North Carolina ($300,000 to the state for rapid response efforts and water quality monitoring and $150,000 to Dr. JoAnn Burkholder for testing samples from several coastal states including North Carolina).

    Pfiesteria Team - In January 1998, the DENR established a team to develop a comprehensive response to the pfiesteria complex of toxic dinoflagellates through:
    1) Collaboration and partnerships between DENR, experts in water quality, fish kills, fish disease, Pfiesteria research, and other states;
    2) The establishment of processes and protocols for sharing data and communicating information, and
    3) Making recommendations on additional research and funding needs that will further our knowledge of pfiesteria.

    Clean Water Management Trust Fund - The fund, created by the 1996 General Assembly, is established to help finance projects that specifically address water pollution problems and focus on upgrading surface waters, eliminating pollution, and protecting and conserving unpolluted surface waters, including urban drinking water supplies. This fund is also intended to be used to build a network of riparian buffers and greenways for environmental, educational and recreational benefits. It is also expected to enhance wildlife and marine fisheries habitats in the state. The trust fund generates approximately $50 million annually.

    Clean Water Responsibility and Environmentally Sound Policy Act - The bill, signed by Governor Hunt on August 26, 1997, has been hailed by environmentalists as the most significant piece of environmental legislation in North Carolina history. It puts a moratorium on hog farms, requires comprehensive planning across the state to ensure clean water and gives counties the right to zone large hog farms and restricts where hog farms can be built. The new law also tightens limits on the amount of nitrogen cities and industries can discharge into nutrient sensitive waters, requires additional stormwater controls and authorizes studies of water pollution.

    Champion International Corporation - The State of Tennessee initiated a contested case proceeding against the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to challenge the water quality permit issued to Champion. The proceeding was stayed, and was ultimately dismissed based on a negotiated settlement involving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and seven other parties. The settlement calls for significant reductions in the amount of color discharged to the Pigeon River, but recognizes the investments the company made.

    Sedimentation & Erosion Control Plan of Action - In response to Gov. Jim Hunt's call to crackdown on sediment in North Carolina's waterways, the State Sedimentation Control Commission has adopted a plan to reduce amounts of the pollutant reaching the state's rivers and streams. The plan, which addresses erosion from construction projects, calls for expanding and enhancing erosion control requirements, toughening enforcement practices available to the state and locally delegated programs, and increasing technical training and education.

    Kinston Penalty - In an innovative way of using a fine to provide water quality benefits beyond normal enforcement/compliance efforts, the Division of Water Quality and the City of Kinston agreed in March 1998 to use $50,000 of an $89,650 water quality fine to establish a water management training program at Lenoir County Community College.

    Neuse River Nutrient Sensitive Waters Strategy - The state's Environmental Management Commission has developed and approved a plan for managing the Neuse River's nutrient pollution problems. The strategy's goal is to reduce by 30 percent the loading of nitrogen into the Neuse River by municipalities, factories, developments and farmers. The plan includes provisions involving protection of both sides of streams from nutrient run-off, wastewater discharges, stormwater management, agricultural best management practices (BMPs), and application of nutrients to golf courses, recreational lands, residential, commercial, industrial, right-of-way or other turfgrass areas.

    Wetlands Restoration Program - The restoration program, passed by the 1996 General Assembly, established in the Department of Environment and Natural Resources a non-regulatory statewide wetlands restoration effort for the acquisition, maintenance, restoration, enhancement and creation of wetland and riparian resources that contribute to the protection and improvement of water quality, flood prevention, fisheries, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. Its purpose is to restore wetlands functions and values throughout North Carolina which will result in a net increase in wetlands acres, functions and values in each of the state's 17 river basins.

    Strengthened Agricultural Cost Share Program - The N.C. Division of Soil and Water Conservation has been working diligently to increase statewide compliance by animal operations and to improve processes for the distribution of cost share funds with a focus on water quality protection. The division is conducting performance reviews of county programs which have improved the targeting and tracking of the funds.

    Straight-Piping Program - The Division of Environmental Health's straight-piping program has received more than 600 calls from 33 counties reporting failing septic systems. More than 100 of these systems have already been repaired.

    Prevent Animal Waste Pollution

    Senate Bill 1217 - This legislation includes the recommendations of a Blue Ribbon Commission on Animal Waste which was convened to address issues related to the management of waste generated by intensive livestock operations in North Carolina. It requires the permitting of all animal waste management facilities and requires inspection of those permitted facilities. It also requires the certification of animal waste management system operators.

    Clean Water Responsibility and Environmentally Sound Policy Act - The bill, signed by Governor Hunt on August 26, 1997, puts a moratorium on hog farms, requires comprehensive planning across the state to ensure clean water and gives counties the right to zone large hog farms and restricts where hog farms can be built.

    Smithfield Foods Permit - In September 1998, the state issued a new permit for the Smithfield Food Processing plant in Bladen County. The Division of Water Quality issued a permit that requires the slaughtering house to only accept animals from farms that have not received a fine for discharging animal waste to surface waters or wetlands, or where a grower has land applied waste in excess of an approved application rate.

    Improve Marine Fisheries Management

    Marine Fisheries Reform Legislation - The legislation, passed by the General Assembly during the 1997 session, is designed to improve fisheries management in North Carolina. It requires that detailed plans be developed for improving fish habitats and managing fish stocks. It also calls for stricter enforcement of fisheries laws, including increased penalties for illegal fishing, higher fees for commercial licenses and a cap on the number of licenses issued. The reform legislation addresses four key areas: resource planning and management, organization, licensing, and law enforcement and public education.

    Division of Marine Fisheries Audit - Following an internal assessment and an audit by the State Auditor's Office, the Division of Marine Fisheries instituted a series of organizational and management changes to improve the agency's performance and customer service.

    Habitat Summit - The Department of Environment and Natural Resources hosted a habitat summit June 1 in Raleigh to launch the process of developing Coastal Habitat Protection Plans. The Fisheries Reform Act calls for DENR to create the plans to improve protection of wetlands, spawning areas, threatened/endangered species habitat, nursery areas, shellfish beds, submerged aquatic vegetation and outstanding resource waters. The Marine Fisheries, Coastal Management and Environmental Management commissions will jointly develop plans to protect this essential habitat, while ensuring that all future regulations are consistent with the plans.

    Improved Stock Status - The 1997 stock status report showed that out of 36 major fish or shellfish stocks, 18 were considered either "healthy" or "recovering," eight were listed as "declining" or "depressed," and 10 were listed as "unknown." Significant in this recovery was the status of weakfish and bluefish, which moved from the "depressed" category to the "recovering" category.

    Updated Polluted Area Closures - DMF and the Shellfish Sanitation Section of the Division on Environmental Health have updated and consolidated closure descriptions for all waters permanently closed to shellfish harvest in North Carolina for the past ten years. As a result of this update, 1225 acres of water have been opened and 1173 acres of water have been closed, for a net opening of 52 acres.

    Internet Access - DMF continues to expand its information and education website which received 26,000 visits in 1997 and continues to draw acclaim for its quality and educational value.

    Public Education - DMF was awarded the Agriculture Commissioner's Award for Best Noncommercial Exhibit at the 1997 NC State Fair. Additionally, over 341,000 educational contacts were made at presentations, exhibits and workshops throughout the state.

    Polluted Waters Signs - Developed durable, professional polluted water signs with international symbols to warn fishermen of the potential health hazard of consuming shellfish from polluted areas. Signs were developed in response to health concerns for non-English speaking fishermen and will be phased in throughout state waters.

    Striped Bass Recovery - In October 1997, striped bass stocks in the Albemarle Sound/Roanoke River were declared recovered by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. After a decade of intensive management and monitoring by the DMF and the WRC, this historic fishery has rebounded.

    Improve Inland Waters & Their Habitats

    Dam Removals - Since 1997, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources has knocked down three dams in the Neuse River Basin, opening up almost 1,100 miles of stream to fish spawning. Fish species that will benefit from the removal of the dams are American shad, striped bass, short-nosed sturgeon, Atlantic sturgeon, hickory shad and alewife.

    1. Quaker Neck Dam - One of the major roadblocks to improving fish migration in the state was the Quaker Neck Dam that straddled the Neuse River just below Goldsboro. In the first voluntary dam removal of its kind, Carolina Power & Light Company, owners of the dam, worked with several state and federal fishery management agencies to solve the problem. Removal of the dam is expected to greatly improve the migration of several important commercial and recreational fish up the Neuse River, to spawn and return to the ocean. Funds were pooled from several state and federal agencies and the dam removal process began Dec. 18, 1997.
    2. Cherry Hospital Dam - On May 28, 1998, concrete came crumbling down at the Cherry Hospital dam, as the state began removal of the dam that spans the Little River near Goldsboro. The dam removal will improve the spawning opportunities for fish that migrate up inland waters before returning to the ocean. The small earthen - steel dam -- 135-feet wide and seven feet high was built by the state about 50 years ago to impound water for use by nearby Cherry Hospital. A few years ago, the hospital began buying its water from the City of Goldsboro and the dam was no longer needed. Removal of the Cherry Hospital dam will open 21 miles of the Little River and 33 miles of tributaries to the fish species that migrate from the ocean.
    3. Rains Mill Dam - On Dec. 1, 1999, marine from Camp Lejeune blew up the 71-year-old Rains Mill Dam in Johnston County as part of a military exercise. The 250-foot wide cement dam, located at the bridge on N.C. Highway 1002 near Princeton, was built in 1928 by local farmer J.W. Baker to support a gristmill built at the edge of the dam. The dam's removal opens 49 more miles of Little River streams and tributaries as spawning areas. Removal of the Rains Mill Dam also offers much needed protection to tar spiny mussels and dwarf-wedge mussels.

    Nantahala Agreement - The state's Division of Water Resources helped negotiate an agreement between the department and Nantahala Power and Light to improve instream flows downstream of three of NP&L's major hydroelectric projects. The flow changes will improve fishing, aquatic habitat and recreational opportunities in a large area of southwestern North Carolina.

    Increase Public Awareness and Involvement

    Environmental Education For Water Quality - North Carolina has initiated a series of environmental education efforts to support the river basin strategy. They include:
    1) Executives of 10 major home lawn fertilizer manufacturers and lawn care services from North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Virginia and Ohio are collaborating to use their corporate policies, resources, networks and employees to raise public awareness of natural river basin systems and human impacts on these systems. The program will go be made public in spring of 1998.
    2) Carolina Power & Light, Duke Power and North Carolina Power companies are collaborating to implement an adult environmental education initiative using billings to raise public awareness of river basins in North Carolina. The inserts will reach over 2 million households four times in two years.
    3) The North Carolina river basin environmental data is being integrated into classrooms as a result of teacher training workshops using geographic information systems (GIS) to develop classroom activities.
    4) The Department of Transportation has erected "Neuse River Basin" signs at 38 locations along major highways in 12 counties in the Neuse River Basin to make the traveling public aware that they live and work within the basin.

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