2008-02-24

2008 NC State Contaminated Waters List

The 2008 list of "impaired" (I like this word?!) waters of North Carolina has been released. The study is completed every two years as part of the EPA Clean Water Act. The 2008 draft report (see B. Draft 2008 303(d) List, pg 55-60) includes a number of OBX recreational water areas. Some I am aware of, but others, I found rather disturbing, especially on the ocean side. I guess there is always going to be pollution out there, but it is quite disconcerting when I find places where we regularly windsurf/surf/swim. People worry about everything in the ocean from rip currents and heavy surf to shark bites, but now bacteria infection too?!

(Some good news though is that a number of the water recreation spots on Pamlico Sound have been delisted this year (see pages 38, 39). Including areas around Canadian Hole in Avon.)

In 2004 I caught a nasty infection from a small shin scrape while learning to kiteboard at Windmill Pt in Nags Head. It was August of that year, and the infection turned into cellulitis. The pain was much worse then either of the two times I broke my leg. Luckily, I had it treated when I did or I risked amputation below the knee if the infection migrated to the bone.

There definitely can be some nasty stuff in the waters off the OBX, especially around areas where extensive land development exists. Most of these areas treat waste water via septic systems. 20 years ago, that was fine given the limited development/population concentration; however with the rapid growth in recent years, septic may not be the best solution to protect our sound/ocean waters. Peak usage during summer months, when tourism multiplies local population, and excessively high sound water temperatures could help foster the high bacteria counts. I rarely enter the sound during the summer in Nags Head, especially in August since my cellulitis infection; however seeing that the ocean coastal waters are also rather "impaired" definitely impacts the thought of a cut or scrape while out being tumbled out in the soup!

6 Comments:

At 6:42 PM, Blogger BOBXNC said...

BIll,
Do you have any emprical evidence to back up what you are writing about septic tanks? What you say is completely unsupported by the facts. Septic systems continue to provide good treatment and most pollution in the sound that is traced is traced back to animals. Storm water runoff can add to pollution from development but this is not coming from septic tanks.
You mentioned pollution at the Canadian Hole. There aren't many septic tanks nearby nor are they are there any near New Inlet yet in 2004-2005 that area showed up as the most polluted spot in DC on surveys done by the state.
More late on VFTR.
The EPA report is good news yes, but septic tanks aren't the remaining culprit.

 
At 7:53 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Hey Bob,
I agree that farming runoff from inland waterways boost bacteria counts in our sound water. Mercury in the coastal ocean water is likely due to storm drain runoff. Regarding septic tanks, the high density placement in populated areas of the OBX is what drives this argument. OBX population centers such as Nags Head and Kill Devil Hills report regular warning notices of high bacteria counts every summer. I am most familiar with Jockeys Ridge, since I have seen the sign there every summer for a number of years now. Though, at one time (during the mid-90s) I did not see signs. Seems the correlation between seeing the signs and the growth of localized development fit?... The septic tank theory is a logic conclusion given the factors of change in this area. All other things being the same, development growth is the key change factor.
I wonder if a septic impact study has been done for Nags Head/Kill Devil Hills in recent years, given the growth in summer vacation housing and suburbanization?

Given development density and our unique relationship with the water, I wonder what the cut off point is where a switch from septic to an alternative is necessary?

 
At 7:57 PM, Blogger badneck said...

it makes the water taste better

 
At 10:53 PM, Blogger Mac said...

Bill, Thanks for sharing that report. I remember the big floods in Eastern NC a few years ago and there were rumors going around about how bad the water was in Pamlico Sound from the runoff but we didn't really know what was true and where was it really bad. Perhaps this is a good source to keep up on what's really happening in the local waters. Is this just an annual report? Is there a web site that reflects the monthly changes in pollution levels, such as after a major storm or other event?

 
At 3:11 PM, Blogger BOBXNC said...

Bill,
The reason you didn't see the signs in the mid 90's was because no testing was being done. In fact signage and water quality may not be related. The state posts warnings at all the ocean outfalls regardless of what the water quality test results indicate. Yo might have a site that has never tested positive but it now has a warning sign. Go figure.
You can find info on the Town's water quality testing program. We test both ground water and the nearby surface waters. Nags Head Cove is has several locations but there are others. There is simply no correlation between the two. There are a host if issues related to setpic tanks, not the least of which is the impact of central sewage. You think the water quality around Nags Head is bad. Go look at Shallowbag Bay where there is central sewage.
I need to look at the listings some more. There are some weird things going on with standards, I think. It appears that if you have one bad entrococcus reading your are listed but it requires 20% of the samples for e coli to be bad to get listed for that bacteria even though they both indicate a similar form of pollution. More later I hope.

 
At 4:05 PM, Blogger Bill said...

Thanks for the update and clarification Bob. I still stay out of the sound in August/early Sept, but usually the waves are good then and the ocean just feels more "refreshing." Though there too, I usually hit the town beach accesses clear of the ocean outfalls.

 

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