Researchers, town leaders working to improve water quality concerns

Published: Jul. 20, 2020 at 7:42 PM EDT
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Even with the common afternoon showers during the mid-summer months, it’s been a relatively dry period across the east.

But despite the lack of rain, a number of water quality advisories have been issued, leaving researchers and town leaders working to find solutions to water quality concerns.

“I am always talking about five of our greatest challenges in Beaufort, that are all interrelated. And one of those greatest challenges is degraded water quality,” says Beaufort Mayor Rett Newton.

Water quality has been a concern across the state of North Carolina for a while now.

And for towns like Beaufort that offer a variety of recreational water activities, it’s an even bigger point of focus.

While warnings about water quality are not uncommon in the aftermath of hurricanes or heavy storms, some increased bacteria levels now during a relatively dry period have left some researches scratching their heads.

“Mainly because of the fact that we haven’t had a lot of rain, and usually rain drives a lot of our water quality advisories,” says Dr. Rachel Noble with the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences.

UNC IMS works with small towns like Beaufort to identify what they call “dry weather flows.”

“An example of that could be a leaking septic system or a leaking sewage or waste water system,” Dr. Noble explains.

But because those systems are underground— they’re difficult to pinpoint, and costly to repair.

“What we’re left with is trying to take a more piecemeal approach and trying to fix the ones we can see are having an impact,” adds Dr. Noble.

But it’s a long-term task Mayor Newton is dedicated to in his town.

“This is not going to be cheap, it’s not going to be something that’s done very quickly, but we are committed to getting in there and rebuilding our infrastructure,” Newton says.

And with more and more people taking to the beaches and waterways amid the pandemic, it has only heightened the efforts.

“How do we get rid of these toxins? Because we do want to be a clean coastal water community, and it is good for public health, it is good for commerce,” adds Newton.

Dr. Noble says that overall North Carolina does have really clean, healthy water -- particularly at their beaches.

But she says that some of their tests this year have been spotty and some higher levels of bacteria have been consistent over the past few weeks.

Because of the increased traffic during the summer months, the state does have a consistent water quality monitoring program where identified waterways are sampled at least once a week up through October.

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