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The Mountain Times
The Mountain Times
Friday 2 March 2001



Study Finds Enforcement Levels Lacking To Insure N.C. Water Quality

By Miles Tager

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 regulators.

"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 said.

"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 when applied.

"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 North Carolina."

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 legislative session.

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 day.

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.



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