Riverkeepers weigh in on Triennial Review, water-quality standards

The Clean Water Act requires states to review their water quality standards and classifications every three years and make any necessary modifications to ensure the protection of our waters. During this process, called the Triennial Review, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality reviews current EPA guidelines, scientific data and public comments and will make recommendations for changes to standards to the NC Environmental Management Commission. This process is currently underway and this is your opportunity to let DEQ know that North Carolinians deserve stronger water protections.

This year, the EMC proposed a few changes to water quality standards, however, we believe additional updates are needed to adequately protect our waters and ensure they are fishable, swimmable and drinkable for all North Carolinians.

Here’s what your Riverkeepers had to say during the public hearing held Tuesday:

Jill Howell, Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper

“In order to adequately protect our waters, additional updates beyond those proposed by the EMC are necessary … The EMC has proposed using E.coli as the pathogenic indicator for Class B waters in 19 counties in the western portion of the state, replacing fecal coliform. Using E.coli, which has been the standard recommended by EPA for nearly a decade, to ID fecal contamination in recreational waters would mean North Carolina is using the best available science. However, this should be extended to all surface waters statewide. It doesn’t make sense to prioritize or have a partial rollout in a certain region over the rest of the state, especially when recreation and contact with waterways is happening everywhere.” 

Matthew Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper

“It is past time for North Carolina to adopt a statewide E. coli standard. It is ridiculous that the state, through their western North Carolina pilot program, is choosing to prioritize the health of folks and the quality of the water in the western part of the state over those in the piedmont and coastal plain. Please adopt a statewide E. coli standard and show the citizens that we all deserve clean water.” 

Katy Hunt, Lower Neuse Riverkeeper

“The proposal to include protective limits on E. coli in the westernmost 19 counties is not enough. It is foolish because bacteria does not only exist in the west. Likewise, recreation on waterways does not only exist in the western portion of the state. Furthermore, many of our low-wealth and minority communities reside in the other 81 counties. Do they not also deserve the chance to protect themselves from E. coli bacteria? Favoring one small section of our state’s population flies in the face of environmental justice — clean water, but clean water for all.

I personally have received a lot of feedback from the residents in the communities I serve who have expressed gratitude and appreciation for our sampling program. I have heard time and time again that it is important to our community to know where it is or is not safe to recreate.

The waterways of North Carolina belong to all of us — and the right to clean water belongs to all of us.” 

Learn more about the water-quality standards being proposed HERE.

You can weigh in on state water-quality standards using this Action Alert email from Waterkeepers Carolina. Public comment is open until Aug. 3.