Grant seals Sound Rivers, Wayne Community College stormwater partnership

Ponding during heavy rains and untreated stormwater runoff will get a fix at Wayne Community College in 2021, thanks to a partnership with Sound Rivers and a $196,700 award from the state’s Environmental Enhancement Grant program.

The grant was announced in late October, and is part of a 2000 agreement between the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office and Smithfield Food. Sound Rivers, a conservation organization based in Washington and New Bern and a long-term advocate of clean waterways, was one of 22 grantees awarded a total of nearly $3 million.

“Thanks to this project, students will be able to learn about science and protecting the environment first-hand,” Attorney General Josh Stein wrote in a press release. “At the same time, they — along with future Wayne Community College students — will benefit from improved water quality in the area.”

According to Derek Hunter, WCC vice president of operations, the project is a welcome opportunity for the college to address the health of local streams and rivers, as well as improve aesthetics on a campus with new construction.

“The major benefit seen by the college in this partnership is the opportunity to process our local stormwater runoff for improvement of water quality in our local Neuse River,” Hunter said. “Improving river conditions, while at the same time improving our campus, is a win-win.”

The issue is inadequate draining in some places and untreated stormwater runoff in others — water that runs directly into storm drains and on to the Neuse. One solution will be multiple bio-retention cells.

“There’s three or four places for bio-retention cells, or rain gardens — places that catch a lot of runoff,” said Clay Barber, Sound Rivers’ environmental projects coordinator. “First and foremost, they’re going to filter stormwater that runs off of roof tops and parking lots, and any other impervious surface. They’re kind of like sponges — if you situate them the correct way, they kind of soak up the water, spread it out and let it sink down.”

Barber said Sound Rivers’ funding will provide the construction and training: caretakers knowing the rain gardens’ purpose and maintaining them appropriately is the key to their success.

“This is basically like ‘landscaping with a purpose,’” Barber said. “They’ll be cleaning stormwater, and we’ll be teaching people about it while we do it. We’re doing that because it’s important work to clean water, but we’re also doing it from a sustainable standpoint — in the future, it’s going to be required.”

Barber said WCC was selected from an assessment of two and 10 project options at 20 different campuses for a simple reason: the administration’s enthusiasm for the projects.

“Wayne Community College recognizes the phenomenal work performed by Sound Rivers and is delighted with the opportunity to partner with them,” Hunter said. “ … The college recognizes there are several opportunities for improvement. The partnership project with Sound Rivers provides the technical resources and funding assistance to identify and implement best practices. This benefits not only our campus but our region by treating the stormwater runoff and reducing the negative impact on local streams and rivers.”