Experts explain how water quality is impacted on North Carolina coast

Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 5:56 PM EDT
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N.C. (WITN) - The summer season is still in full swing and many people are headed to the coast to cool off in the water.

However, before people dive in, just how clean is that water? Experts say there are many things that can impact water quality, including people’s own actions.

Water is the lifeline for humans and it’s a way of life for a lot of North Carolinians.

“Everything from commercial to recreational fishing, to oyster growers, to the tourism industry, all of it is really dependent on clean water,” Lauren Kolodij, North Carolina Coastal Federation assistant director said.

However, many people may not fully understand how their actions at their homes, on the roads, and out on the water all affect water quality.

“Water quality for people has lots of different ways it manifests itself,” Dr. Mike Piehler, UNC Institute of Marine Sciences professor said. “You have water quality in that water is clean enough to drink and you also have water quality in the sense of clean enough for ecosystems to function as they need to, and all of those things directly benefit people.”

Piehler has spent years researching and studying water quality.

“Your water quality isn’t generally a problem until it’s a bigger problem and so people don’t have a sense of the cumulative impacts of smaller changes that they could make to enhance and sustain water quality,” Piehler said.

Water quality doesn’t just become degraded from heavy boat traffic, or even littering while out on the water. It actually starts farther away from the coast.

“I think you’d be surprised because it can be something as small as somebody not picking up after their pet on the street or sidewalk, to discharging of major pollutants like sewage... that doesn’t happen very often, but it’s really everything we do. It could be activities in a marina, it could be activities out on the boat,” Kolodij said.

Experts say it doesn’t have to be all bad news since all of these impacts are things people can control, including one of the biggest culprits responsible for affecting water quality: stormwater runoff.

“When the rain hits hard surfaces like a parking lot or with a ditched and drained farm field, it’s really taking all of that activity we do on the land, again the pet waste, and flushing it into the water,” Kolodij said.

Constructing rain gardens, building permeable surfaces, and other measures can all slow this runoff, and closer to the water, actions like encouraging marinas to take part in the Clean Marina Program, can help.

Marinas that are part of the program can be found here.

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