U.S. Water News Online
RALEIGH, N.C. -- The General Assembly is attempting to take
a fresh look at clean water this year, but a long-standing legal and
legislative battle has kept things murky, at least when it comes to
For David Beresoff, a commercial fishermen from Brunswick County,
the answer is plain when he sees more waterways closed to oyster and
clam harvesting because of pollution. Beresoff said the increase has
come about the same time that development has soared along the coast.
"We keep losing ground year after year," Beresoff said as he was
pulling up a flounder net in the Lockwood Folly River. "You've got
this rampant development ... the stormwater runoff is just a straight
shot into the waters."
Developers, however, they shouldn't have to take all the blame.
And they say a proposal that will require them to install vegetation
buffers or containment ponds more often than builders in the rest of
the state may not improve shellfish waters that much.
"There are other land uses that are contributing to the pollution
that way and we would appear to be the only ones -- land developers
-- that would have to fix that," said Lisa Martin, a lobbyist for the
N.C. Home Builders Association.
Environmentalists, regulators, local governments and homebuilders
have been meeting for the past two months trying to work out details
of a bill designed to set federally mandated stormwater controls for
small- and medium-sized communities.
Rules for six large cities with populations of 100,000 went in
place in 1990. In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency extended
requirements to so-called "Phase II" communities.
The state Environmental Management Commission adopted rules in
2003 that would have forced 123 municipalities and 33 counties to
start stormwater programs, but a special state panel that reviews
rules rejected them, touching off a lawsuit.
In 2004, the General Assembly stepped in and created its own
temporary rules. The environmental commission then created rules that
were approved by the state rules panel last November.
The lobbyists and regulators are now trying to work out
differences between the 2004 law and the commission rules before this
year's legislative session ends. Otherwise, the rules take effect
The advocates have been trying to resolve conflicts over many
issues, such as if and when the rules would apply to a landowner
already in the planning or construction stages. Local governments
also are negotiating over when entire counties would have to
"There are several billion working parts," said Sen. Dan
Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, the bill sponsor, who wants to bring to
the Senate environment committee.
The home builders association, comprised of more than 16,000
builders, also is worried about a proposal that would place tighter
stormwater controls on three coastal counties and eight coastal
cities, particularly land within a half-mile of shellfish waters that
drain into them.
Environmental groups back a rule that would require a developer to
set up retention ponds or vegetation to control rainwater runoff in
those coastal areas where more than 12 percent of the land is covered
by buildings, pavement, gravel or athletic courts.
The controls help water percolate into the ground and evaporate at
a slower rate, while nutrients and bacteria otherwise heading for
sensitive waters are absorbed by plants. Developers in the rest of
the state covered by the Phase II rules wouldn't require pollution
control measures unless they cover up 24 percent of the land.
Supporters point to state and university reports that show that
the quality of shellfish waters begin to decline when built-upon
areas exceed 10 percent. Shellfish water closures have increased from
46,000 acres in 1984 to 56,000 today, according to the N.C. Coastal
"We really need those extra protections around our shellfishing
waters to protect them. If not, we're going to continue to lose these
waters, which are important for our economy," said Christine Wunsche,
an attorney with Environment North Carolina.
The 12 percent rule could effectively cap development in coastal
areas, said Rick Zechini with the N.C. Association of Realtors.
"They don't want to get into a situation where they have to deal
with the high density projects," Zechini said. "What you're doing is
Martin said her group hasn't reviewed the studies enough to
determine whether the kind of subdivisions her members build are the
primary cause of the shellfish degradation.
"I think even at 12 percent you're not going to open closed
shellfishing beds," she said.
The General Assembly appears headed toward other improvements on
other water quality issues this year. The House has backed new fees
or increasing old ones to test new private drinking water wells and
monitor community water supplies better.
Beresoff said legislators needs to be committed to also keeping
other kinds of water clean.
"People have to be conscious about what they come to the coast
for," he said. "They come for the beautiful scenery and the
availability of fresh seafood. But if you destroy that, then you're
defeating the whole purpose of moving to the ... coast."
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