Shellfish harvesting closures initiate impaired waters list

by Michelle Saxton
Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Closure of shellfish harvesting areas was the most common reason for waterways being included on a list the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources released of streams, rivers and lakes that fail to meet state water quality requirements.

Besides shellfish closures — often due to bacteria from rainstorm runoff — cloudy water quality, lack of number or diversity of aquatic insects and excessive chlorophyll a — an indicator of algal growth — are reasons for inclusion in the Category 5 list of impaired waters reported DENR’s Division of Water Resources.

North Carolinians have until March 14 to offer public comments regarding the 303 (d) list for 2014. The biennial water quality assessment is required under the federal Clean Water Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency requires plans to address pollutants flagged on the list.

In the New Hanover County area, waters from the Cape Fear River Basin and White Oak River Basin on the list include Greenfield Lake, Burnt Mill Creek, and Bradley and Hewletts creeks among others. 

Greenfield Lake is long overdue on the list, Mike Mallin, research professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Marine Science, said in a Monday, Feb. 10, phone interview.

“It’s been plagued with algal blooms for years,” Mallin said. “It definitely needs to be targeted to get some good work done on it to reduce the amount of nitrogen that runs into the lake from surrounding neighborhoods.”

Mallin’s laboratory works for the City of Wilmington to regularly collect data on Greenfield Lake and several tidal creeks, he said, adding that some tidal creeks were included on the list due to high fecal counts.

“There is work underway to try and reduce that type of pollution,” Mallin said, adding the City of Wilmington Stormwater Services has been involved too. Efforts include trying to reduce stormwater runoff into Bradley and Hewletts creeks, Mallin said. 

“It’s urban and suburban stormwater runoff primarily,” Mallin said. “Every time we have a sewage spill or sewage leak, that just adds to the problem.”

Among ways the public can help address some water quality issues is simply picking up pet waste and disposing of it in the trash or burying it, Mallin said.

“When we see it out on the landscape and it rains it’s just going to wash the bacteria from the pet waste right into the tidal creeks,” Mallin said.

Burnt Mill Creek, which has been on the list since 1998 for poor benthos ratings, now has concerning levels of chlorophyll a too. 

“The state is not going to put it up as a high priority because other local groups (are) working to improve water quality,” Cam McNutt, a water quality assessment coordinator for the Division of Water Resources’ Water Quality Programs, said Jan. 29. “That’s a very similar case for the large municipalities in North Carolina.”

Some Cape Fear River areas have exceeded the low side of dissolved oxygen levels, which could potentially cause fish kills, McNutt said.

State officials released the draft list in January. They will address public comments, make changes and submit the list to the EPA April 1, McNutt said.

“I would encourage people to get themselves educated and get involved,” McNutt said.

Once pollutants are found the EPA requires the state to develop strategies to reduce levels so the water meets quality standards and has all its uses, Division of Water Resources spokeswoman Susan Massengale said Jan. 17. 

Waters can be removed from the list once strategies are made and plans are in place, Massengale added.

“It heightens people’s awareness of what’s going on in those waterways close to them,” Massengale said of the list.

“Some of the folks who may have some background in biology and science may want to take a look at the methodology we use,” Massengale added. “We’re always looking to improve the way that we do this and make it more representative of what’s going on in this state.”

Other impaired waterways in the Cape Fear River Basin include: 

• Parts of the Cape Fear River and Intracoastal Waterway

• Everett Creek

• Futch Creek

• Howe Creek

• Masonboro Sound

• Middle Sound

• Myrtle Sound Shellfishing Area

• Pages Creek

• Topsail Sound

• Whiskey Creek

To access the entire 303 (d) list visit


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