New math moves parts of the Pamlico off impaired waters list

Algal Blooms, Environmental, Sound Rivers, Tar-Pamlico Watershed, Water Quality

Posted on April 25th, 2024

A past algal bloom near Durham Creek on the south side of the Pamlico River.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is taking parts of the Pamlico River off of the 303(d) list of impaired waters in the state.

The criterion for the delisting is how much Chlorophyll A is present in the water. Chlorophyll A is an indicator of how much nutrients are in the water, causing algae to be present, according to Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper Katey Zimmerman.

“It comes from runoff or industry discharge into the water,” Katey said. “Agricultural lands input a lot of nutrients from their animal waste; it’s also in fertilizer.”

The areas no longer considered impaired for Chlorophyll A are 10,194 acres of the Pamlico River, running from Bayview to St. Clair’s Creek on the north side of the river, and Durham Creek to South Creek on the south side (surrounding the Nutrien phosphate mine); as well as Pantego Creek at Belhaven.

“According to the methodology they are now using, these areas are no longer considered impaired,” Katey said. “The methodology prior to 2014 was using the 10-percent rule. They would take a certain amount of samples throughout the 4-year time period, and if more than 10% showed exceedances for the standard, then it would be considered impaired for that parameter.”

However, the methodology now includes the 10-percent rule with statistical confidence added in, meaning the likelihood the statistics are accurate.  

“Industry lobbyists pushed through the methodology changes b/c industry leaders wanted less impaired waterways on the 303(d) list,” Katey said. “What it does is make our waterways appear healthier than they are, so there is less prioritization to improve them. We like to call this pro-polluter math.” 

One local waterway that is being added to the list is the Pamlico River in Washington from the N.C. Highway 17 Business Bridge to .75 miles downstream of Runyon Creek on the north side and half a mile downstream of Rodman Creek on the south side.

Katey is submitting comments to NCDEQ about the delisting of these parts of the Pamlico.

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