Coastal Fed rainwater runoff project a ‘significant success’

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A project to reduce storm water runoff pollution in Wrightsville Beach has resulted in significantly reduced bacteria concentrations in areas where the project was tested, the results of the two-year North Carolina Coastal Federation study recently published in an international scientific journal reveal.

The study showed the project, which used filtration systems and civil engineering to reduce rainwater flow into Banks Channel, reduced fecal coliform bacteria by 57 percent, Enterococcus bacteria by 71 percent and storm water discharge by 50 percent. The results were published in the July edition of the Journal of Coastal Research.

Other coastal areas around the country and the world can soon replicate the example being set in Wrightsville Beach. Tracy Skrabal, coastal scientist and southeast regional manager for the Coastal Federation, said the study’s results are important for balancing economic development with environmental conservation.

“It’s a very significant success. It highlights the specific approaches that we wish to get out to an international audience,” Skrabal said of the study’s results and their publication. “If we’re going to reverse water-quality degradation, you can’t stop development, you can disconnect the pathways of storm water from our waterways. Our goal is to take these successes and approaches, now that we can say they are cost-effective and work, and encourage others to implement them.”

The increased bacteria concentration that results from storm water runoff, which includes fecal coliform bacteria from pets, wildlife and even people, can create issues for both swimmers and shellfish populations. These bacteria concentrations usually spike around trash cans, Skrabal said.

The Coastal Federation has grant funding to continue to implement these infrastructure changes in 12 areas around the region. This will include the retrofitting of the storm drain by the Blockade Runner Beach Resort to add a filtration system similar to the one added to the storm drain pipe at Iula Street, which was included in the study. The federation chose the Blockade Runner site because it is often used by swimmers. It also often tests poorly after heavy rain.

The project is scheduled to start in December.

Skrabal said the federation is still considering other areas in which to implement the improvements, but that it will be targeting locations near Bradley and Hewletts creeks. The changes could include the suite of options that can include filtration systems, wales, earthen dams, rain gardens, curb cuts and cisterns.

“These approaches aren’t rocket science, but it is fairly innovative,” Skrabal said. “With results like these, it’s going to get a lot of attention.”

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