Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bad news for the Neuse

North Carolina has 17 river basins and some of the most spectacular waterways in the East – and then there’s the sad story about what this state has done to one of its biggest.
The Neuse River flows 250 miles from its headwaters north and west of Durham down through the Capital County, snakes through Eastern North Carolina and become a major river as it flows by historic New Bern on its way to Pamlico Sound.
I have spent a good bit of my life on its waters, canoeing and fishing and sailing and, twice, certain I was about to meet my end on its rough waters during white squalls. I have fished at Falls Lake, canoed around Raleigh and taken out at the Milburnie Dam, pulled trash out of the upper Neuse near Wake Forest and fished for tarpon near Oriental. I have seined ancient shark’s teeth out of the shallow sands of a sandbar that juts out off Minnesott Beach. I have piloted a 37-foot cutter past shrimp boats with their outriggers spread wide during whiteout conditions, and romped along on a beam reach towards Ocracoke right where the river meets the sound – a stretch of river wider than any place along the Mississippi.
Now American Rivers, a national nonprofit that keeps tabs on the health of the nation’s rivers, says the Neuse is one of the country’s 10 most threatened rivers, ranking as its eighth-most endangered. It’s easy to see why: until the mid-20th century, there were way too many industrial plants and municipalities pumping waste into the Neuse. And researchers figured out long ago that residential, municipal, industrial and agricultural runoff were putting more nutrients into the river than it could stand – including runoff from industrial hog farms, riverkeepers say.
Wade Rawlins’ story in the N&O today explains why the river made the list, and what the state tried to do about it. You’ll notice the state adopted a goal of a 30 percent reduction in nitrogen in the 1990s, but there’s more to the story: that 30 percent reduction, scientists say, was a number that was never meant to reflect a serious understanding of what was needed to fully clean up the river. It may have taken its roots in two studies in the 1980s and early 1990s that showed the Neuse had enduring a 30 percent nitrogen loading during the previous two decades, and reducing nitrogen that much seemed to be a good start at the time. It was a start, but it wasn’t enough to do the job.

10 comments:

viridari said...

I participated in the cleanup of the Neuse River last weekend and it's just disgusting the state of the river. Most wild animals know not to poop where they eat but Homo sapiens still has not learned that trick yet.

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of Butner dumping all that nitrogen just upstream of where my Raleigh tap water is pulled from.

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