New River cleanup expands water activities

JACKSONVILLE, NC (WITN) The New River in Jacksonville is cleaner than ever before, thanks to more than 20-years of clean up.

Scientists say decades ago the river looked like coffee with creamer in it. It was cloudy, and that's because of decades of pollution that essentially clogged the river's natural ability to clean itself.

Pat Donovan-Brandenburg with Jacksonville Habitat Protection says, The first year I started working on this project I was in a hazmat suit."

For decades waste was dumped into the New River, and in the 1990's a major hog waste spill made things even more muddy for Onslow County and Jacksonville leaders, who knew they needed to bring in experts and start what would become the revitalization of the New River.

Paula Farnell with the Sturgeon City Environmental Center says, "This river was ecologically dead at one point."

Brandenburg says, "We have a moral responsibility to clean this up, and that's when they started looking at answers."

Pollution was cut off at the source, and more than 8 million oysters were brought in to filter the New River.

Brandenburg says, "The process is called bioremediation. And so what we did, the wastewater treatment facility, which was key, was shut down in April of 1998. It no longer flowed into the river."

While the water still has a brownish tint, that's actually the norm for what are called tannic rivers.

Farnell says, "Some people think that the water is dirty because it's a color that they don't expect, but it actually isn't, it's perfectly healthy."

Brandenburg says, "It didn't happen overnight, it did take a few years, but think about how long it took to pollute it."

Now, the Jacksonville Onslow Sports Commission is excited to host the New River Splash event, which will include a triathlon, as well as other in-water activities.

The event was supposed to kick off last year, but Hurricane Florence caused it to be canceled.

The revitalization of the New River was a joint effort between Camp Lejeune, the Sturgeon City Environment Center, and local leaders.