N.C. Coastal Federation funds town cisterns

by Daniel Bowden
Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Staff photo by Emmy Errante 

The North Carolina Coastal Federation has provided the town of Wrightsville Beach with five cisterns, which will be used to collect rainwater at the Public Safety Facility.

The town of Wrightsville Beach has recently acquired five 3,000-gallon cisterns that will be used to collect stormwater runoff from the roofs of town buildings. Four of the cisterns will be anchored to concrete under the Public Safety Building in strategic locations chosen to collect the most water possible from the building’s downspouts, and the fifth will be placed near the fire department’s apparatus bay. Rainwater harvested in the cisterns will be used by various Wrightsville Beach departments to wash vehicles, irrigate gardens and refill the town’s street sweeper. 

The cisterns were obtained via an environmental enhancement grant issued by the attorney general and secured by the North Carolina Coastal Federation. Funding for the grant came from a settlement between the attorney general’s office and Smithfield Foods, Inc., after pollution from many of the company’s hog farms was determined to have contaminated water supplies in surrounding areas throughout the country.

“What the cisterns do is two-fold,” said Tracy Skrable, southeast regional manager of the NCCF. “They’re capturing runoff from the roof that, right now, goes into a drain and gets piped right out to a creek, and they reuse it before infiltrating it into the ground.”

This project is a 50-50 collaboration with NCCF. The NCCF paid for 100 percent of the cost of the system, and the town will pay for the labor and piping involved in its installation.

Mike Vukelich, public works director for the town of Wrightsville Beach, said cisterns were included in the original plan for the Public Safety Building, but the project’s site engineer did not believe the town would be able to approve its own project and built a retention pond instead.

Stormwater runoff from impermeable surfaces such as roofs and roads carries high levels of bacteria, which is currently funneled into the town’s stormwater runoff drains and emptied into the surrounding waters. 

If the water can be infiltrated, or absorbed back into the ground, it can be cleansed of much of that bacteria before it returns to area watersheds. Vehicle washing stations used at the Wrightsville Beach Public Safety Facility are designed to help infiltrate water after it’s used to wash vehicles.

Skrable said these five cisterns are the first step in a three-part project, funded by environmental enhancement grants, that uses cisterns to mediate stormwater runoff. The project is specifically aimed at improving water quality in Bradley and Hewletts creeks, but the NCCF has not yet chosen the next two locations that will receive cisterns.

“This area is very prolific for oysters and clams,” Skrable said. “And much of our areas within the Bradley and Hewletts creek watershed have been closed to shellfishing for years, due to poor water quality. What we’re trying to do is turn back the clock, to a time when our creeks were not pristine, but where there was a level of runoff that kept those shellfish waters at least partially open.”

Skrable said the NCCF has also located hotspots of pollution in areas used for swimming.

The NCCF’s project, named “Grey to Blue,” is modeled after a similar project carried out in Portland, Ore., called “Green to Blue.” Green to Blue focused on rerouting downspouts around the city, and resulted in dramatic improvements in water quality.

email dan@luminanews.com

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