Study Finds Enforcement Levels
Lacking To Insure N.C. Water Quality
North Carolina's water quality
continues to take center stage in the public eye, but the
effectiveness of state and county measures to protect it is
often as murky as the watersheds themselves.
A recent study conducted by
scientists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill has concluded that while regulations have increased,
enforcement is not delivering clean rivers and waterways to
citizens of the state.
The researchers, including
biologists and scientists from the UNC School of Public
Health, measured invertebrates - insects seen as the prime
indicators of aquatic health - in seventeen state waterways,
and took their measurements upstream, downstream, and adjacent
to construction sites.
The study also included
measurements of fish populations, water quality, and leaf
decomposition rates at work sites before, during, and after
construction, as well as extensive contacts with those
involved in the construction and its
"This was a very complicated and
detailed study," according to Dr. Seth R. Reice, Associate
Professor of Biology at UNC-Chapel Hill.
"We sampled and identified more
than 300,000 invertebrates, but our principal task was to try
to understand what made for effective control of sediments
from construction sites and to that end, we also interviewed
contractors, developers, and both erosion and sediment control
administrators and site inspectors," Reice
"The public policy analysis means
ours was the first investigation ever to look at the actual
impact of developers and regulators on natural stream ecology
in this way."
The impact of sedimentation and
runoff varied in direct relation to enforcement of state and
local regulations, the study found; with relatively stringent
North Carolina standards obeyed by developers and builders
"The problem . . . is that
inspectors, who are good people doing their best, can't
possibly keep up because the rate of construction has
increased fantastically here," Reice said.
"Our data provides a powerful
argument for hiring many more sedimentation inspectors in
For the past two years, a proposal
for 120 new sedimentation site inspectors has washed through
the state budget process until it disappeared, and under the
2001 constraints will likely get the same treatment again this
The study cited Wake County, where
poorer water quality than in nearby Orange County was traced
to four inspectors trying to monitor 2,000 construction sites
during the period studied from 1996-2000.
The State Division of Land
Resources, which oversees all private and public construction
projects (including highways) not inspected locally in the
state, employs 34 inspectors to cover an estimated 7,000-8,000
sites; an average of a site visit every 31/2 months.
State sedimentation laws go into
effect for any project over one acre, and fines were just
increased from a maximum of $500 a day to $5,000 a
Presented to the State
Sedimentation Commission last week, the study was funded by a
$577,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
and the National Science Foundation.