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Action Alert: Ellerbe Creek in jeopardy

ACTION ALERT, Action Alerts, Environmental, Neuse River Watershed, Sound Rivers, Stormwater Issues, Stormwater Runoff, Water Quality

Posted on February 8th, 2024

Ellerbe Creek runs red from its headwaters to downtown Durham.

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For many years, Ellerbe Creek, running through the heart of Durham, was an unhealthy waterway. Gradually, that began to change — the creek became cleaner and clearer over the years, thanks to the city fixing its stormwater issues and investment in restoration projects by Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association.

Unfortunately, Ellerbe Creek is in jeopardy again. For the past several months, sediment has been pouring into the creek from the clear-cut land of a housing development under construction, turning it “tomato soup” red, whether it’s raining or not.

Runoff from clear-cut land is causing Ellerbe Creek to run red.

“Ellerbe Creek is a well-loved, urban tributary in the very heart of Durham. There are lots of folks who fish in it, and hike in the parks around the area, and because it’s in the city, it’s also in the backyards of tons of Durhamites,” said Neuse Riverkeeper Samantha Krop. 

Recent testing of the headwaters of Ellerbe Creek measured turbidity levels (the amount of sediment suspended in water) at six times the state standard for healthy waterways. Runoff from the Stonewood Estates housing development is affecting the entire stream channel, from its headwaters through downtown Durham.

“It’s a major challenge to aquatic species to have this level of turbidity for this long,” Sam said. “Exposure to turbidity levels that high for weeks on end is connected to delayed hatching rates, delayed growth rates, and long-term reduction in feeding success for fish species.”

Durham’s Sediment and Erosion Control rules are meant to prevent sediment from leaving construction sites. It’s clear that the rules are not working. 

If sediment is leaving a construction site, Durham County Sediment and Erosion Control regulators have the authority to issue a Notice of Violation and to issue a stop work order — an authority granted by the adoption of the S&EC amendment to Durham’s Unified Development Ordinance last year, which has yet to be used.

We’re asking the Durham City Council and County Commissioners to call on Durham County Sediment and Erosion Control to issue a stop work order to halt site construction until the issue is corrected, and sediment is no longer polluting Ellerbe Creek. Use our Action Alert to send an email to council and commissioners HERE!

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Though silt fencing surrounds the property, it’s failing to prevent sediment from muddying the waters.

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