Raw human waste entering our communities and streams is a big concern, both for water quality and public health. Over 844 million gallons of untreated sewage was spilled or dumped into North Carolina’s public waterways between 2002-2017, according to a review by your Riverkeepers at Sound Rivers. The analysis found very few penalties were levied against polluters. Using data from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), your Riverkeepers mapped the 22,968 sewage spills, or “sanitary sewer overflows” (SSOs), that occurred in the state between 2002-2017 — an average of 1,500 spills per year.
When SSOs happen, the public should be notified in a timely manner, and through communications that will actually reach people. Right now the only public notice required for polluting our waterways is an outdated law that calls for polluters to send a press release and post an ad in a newspaper. The public has the right to know about major pollution spills that impact our waterways as soon as possible, and through the technology the public uses today.
Other states utilize more transparent and available records of sewage spills. For example, South Carolina’s Department of Health & Environmental Control maintains a website updated with information about spills as they are reported. North Carolinians deserve a modern notification system and more detailed reporting so you can boat, fish and swim in your rivers without worry – and know when raw sewage is dumped into your communities and environment.
Send a letter using our Action Alert here to tell the NC Department of Environmental Quality: Update your spill notification system for the 21st century to keep North Carolinians informed, and their waterways safe.
To fulfill its mission of protecting people and the environment in modern times, DEQ should update its notification system to include alerts to the public through email, social media posts, and text messages following large pollution events and sewage spills. NC residents could then sign up to get these crucial updates as soon as possible, and when they need them: before they get out on the river.
Many people no longer get their news from print newspapers, and in many NC counties, papers only run once or twice a week. Yet here’s the current state law: When a polluter spills over 1,000 gallons of sewage into a waterway, the polluter is required to notify DEQ and to send out a press release to local news media within 24 hours. If a sewage spill is over 15,000 gallons, it must also be published in the newspapers of affected counties in the form of an advertisement within 10 days. Other types of pollution spills also have reporting requirements to DEQ, but very little notice to the general public.
This means residents can be exposed to polluted waterways for days before learning about a spill in a newspaper. And because newspapers aren’t even required to publish these press releases about spills, there’s no guarantee that people will get the information they need to swim, fish, and boat safely even then.