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Watershed restoration plan reaches out to community

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The Cape Fear River Watch hosted a free seminar to educate the public about the Bradley and Hewlett’s Creek Watershed Restoration Plan that was developed in 2012 by the city of Wilmington, the town of Wrightsville Beach and North Carolina Coastal Federation.

The seminar’s guest speaker Erin Carey, City of Wilmington’s watershed coordinator, presented an informal lecture Saturday, July 5.

“Everyone here lives in a watershed,” Carey began. “It’s an area of land that drains into a particular body of water. So that receiving body of water will receive all the runoff and rain water.”

Unlike wastewater, storm water is not treated in a treatment plant. Storm water runs through a series of pipes, until it flows into receiving bodies of water, like Bradley and Hewlett’s creeks.

“Storm water collects pollutants like pet waste, fertilizer, gas, oil and anything on the road; all gets picked up and gets taken to the creek,” Carey said during the morning seminar. “There’s no treatment. It’s literally a straight pipe into these waters. That gets us to close shell fishing areas.”

The plan is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Section 319 grant, through the North Carolina Division of Water Quality. Its purpose is to improve water quality and creek health by reducing the amount of polluted runoff entering the creeks through best management practices (BMPs).

BMPs are structural improvements on properties that capture and treat runoff before reaching waterways such as permeable pavements or rain gardens.

“Not only will the city try to include BMPs in new developments but getting private and commercial properties to include them also,” Carey said. “We have a 319 grant proposal in right now. We’re trying to get Long Leaf Mall to put in a bio filtration cell that will treat a lot of the storm water before it gets to Hewlett’s Creek.”

The goal to rid the creek of pollution and restore contamination levels to their 1981 levels is a long-term plan, Carey said.

“What comes down the river is going to end up in the ocean,” Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear Riverkeeper and the seminar’s moderator, said. “We all depend on our waterways for a lot things like the economy. If we can’t harvest shellfish, fishermen can’t make a living. If people can’t go swimming, the city’s tourism economy will be affected.”

“It does not take four days to solve it. We’re looking at a 20 to 30 year effort to open Hewlett’s Creek’s shell fishing again,” Carey said.

Though a slow process, the restoration plan has recently gained a small victory with the construction of a rain garden last month beside the Tidal Creek Co-Op on Oleander Drive. The project was a combined effort by the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the City of Wilmington and Heal Our Waterways, a program that works to implement the watershed restoration plan.

“We want people to learn about it and learn why it’s so important,” Burdette said. “It’s hard to take action to protect something if you don’t know anything about it.”

“Hewlett’s Creek is the main focus of this program. The whole creek is closed. It’s 85 percent developed, home to 14,780 residents and 19 percent impervious,” Carey said. “It is an impaired water which means its not meeting its current use of shellfish harvest. Our job is to focus on Hewlett’s Creek and get it off this list — the water blacklist.”
For more information, visit www.healourwaterways.com


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