Friday, April 19, 2024

NC Coastal Federation announces plans to reduce flooding and water pollution

A woman checks her mailbox on a flooded street in the North Chase neighborhood in northern Wilmington following Hurricane Dorian. (Port City Daily/Mark Darrough)

SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — The North Carolina Coastal Federation has announced the creation of an action plan for statewide government leaders and developers to help curb flooding and water pollution.

The “Action Plan for Nature-Based Stormwater Strategies” focuses on ways to promote natural designs to reduce flooding and improve water quality in new developments, stormwater retrofits, roadways, and working lands. 

“North Carolinians are increasingly affected by damage and disruptions from flooding. More rain means more water running off the land, carrying pollutants and debris into rivers and to the coast,” according to the document.

The Newport-based nonprofit created the plan through input from four work groups, each addressing one of the following: new development, roadways, stormwater retrofit of existing land use, and working lands. The groups consisted of engineers, developers, state and local officials, drinking water experts, attorneys, conservationists, fishing and agricultural experts, and university professors.

The action plan outlines four recommendations: 

  • To encourage state and local governments to “lead by example” and promote nature-based stormwater strategies and implement those strategies widely;
  • To increase education, outreach, and training for these strategies;
  • To create a “Nature-Based Stormwater Steering Committee” that would ensure stakeholder engagement and leadership;
  • To establish a manner of watershed management that focuses on protecting, restoring, or mimicking natural water systems to reduce flooding and improve water quality.

The group also calls for an economic study on the costs and benefits of nature-based stormwater strategies and how to streamline modifications to post-construction stormwater permits, advance state-level and local policies that promote the strategies, and educate state legislative members on “opportunities to substantially increase the amount of financial resources for working lands and conservation.” 

The group pointed to an estimated $1.4 billion spent by the state on recovery efforts after hurricanes and other extreme weather events.

In 2018, Governor Roy Cooper signed an executive order into law to address climate change and to transition to a clean energy economy. By 2025, the initiative hoped to reduce statewide gas emissions to 40% below 2005 levels, increase the number of registered zero-emission vehicles to at least 80,000, and reduce energy consumption in state-owned buildings by at least 40% from 2002-2003 levels.

“The state has recognized that nature-based solutions are key to ensuring a more resilient future,” the group stated in its action plan. 

It said the state has increased incentives for agencies and companies to use strategies that can address localized flooding by defining low-impact developments and runoff volume matching as stormwater management options. Low-impact developments are those that emphasize conservation through the use of on-site natural features to protect water quality, while runoff volume matching refers to developers being able to match “native” runoff volumes that existed prior to development. 

“We have a responsibility to mitigate the damages caused by these storms and shifting weather patterns . . . and to make our communities more resilient,” N.C. Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan told members of the four working groups in March 2020.

Earlier this month, U.S. senators on the Environment and Public Works Committee voted to advance Regan’s nomination to lead the federal government’s Environmental Protection Agency.

“We have to rebuild stronger and smarter and ensure we can withstand the climate impacts of the future,” Regan continued. “What we know is that we have to act now. We cannot do the same old things and expect a different result. We have the opportunity to address flood risk and water quality and to make our communities safer.”

Following Hurricane Florence in 2018, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated statewide damages to total $17 billion.

Nine months following Regan’s remarks, the working groups concluded that the most cost-effective approaches to reduce flooding and improve water quality is to “find practical and commonsense ways to protect, restore and mimc our state’s natural watershed hydrology.”

Each group identified crucial impediments to implementing nature-based stormwater strategies: a lack of awareness and education, inflexible planning and regulation policies, inadequate operation and maintenance, a lack of understanding where such strategies could be implemented during a development’s design phase, and a perception that the strategies are more expensive than conventional stormwater management methods. 

The group also pointed to a drastic increase in new development in the last decade as a reason to promote nature-based stormwater methods. Since 2010, the state’s population grew at a faster rate than the national average, expanding by 8.9% compared to the nation’s 5.8%, according to the N.C. Coastal Federation. 

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