Environmental groups encourage action to improve coastal water quality

Points on this map mark beaches in North Carolina which had potentially unsafe days for swimming due to water contamination in 2020. (Environment North Carolina graphic)

MOREHEAD CITY — Environment North Carolina and Coastal Carolina Riverwatch encourage coastal residents to take action to improve water quality for all users.

ENC and CCRW held a phone press conference July 1 to announce the release of ENC’s N.C. Research and Policy Center’s Safe for Swimming report. The report provides information on the presence of water quality contamination at North Carolina’s beaches.

ENC clean water advocate Krista Early said North Carolinians are “mindful of how much we need the fresh ocean breeze and clean water.”

“Unfortunately, all too often our ocean waters are too polluted to swim,” she said.

According to Ms. Early, the ENC report shows in 2020, 210 beaches were tested for potential contamination. Of those, 87 had at least one day with conditions potentially unsafe for swimming and seven had unsafe days for at least 25% of the year.

Of the beach sites with the most potentially unsafe swimming days, the Lennoxville boat ramp in Beaufort ranked No. 10, with four potentially unsafe days out of 17 days with testing. In comparison, the beach with the most unsafe days was on the Pamlico River at a railroad trestle in Beaufort County, with 10 potentially unsafe days out of 17 with testing.

Stormwater runoff, the No. 1 cause of nonpoint water pollution on the state’s coast, is a major contributor to water contamination. Ms. Early said runoff can flow over impervious surfaces, carrying pollution into nearby water bodies, as well as cause sewage overflows. She advises using green infrastructure techniques, such as rain gardens and permeable pavement, to reduce runoff and thus improve water quality.

“We need to boldly invest in our infrastructure,” Ms. Early said, “and keep our beaches safe for swimming.”

Coastal communities and their waters don’t only feel the effects of pollution from their own runoff, however.  CCRW Executive Director Lisa Rider said water pollution from upstream sources, such as major cities like Raleigh, get washed down to the coast.

CCRW is conducting a program, Water Quality for Fisheries, to assess the effects of priority causes of water pollution and recommend action to address these problems, which can harm commercial and recreational fishing.

“Through this effort we’ve formed a (commercial fishing) industry working group,” Ms. Rider said. “We’re hearing from the voices of coastal communities on what’s needed for our fisheries.”

CCRW has identified several priority causes of water pollution through its program. The highest priority cause is industrial agricultural runoff, such as from hog farms and concentrated animal feeding operations.

Ms. Rider said North Carolinians can help reduce industrial agricultural runoff by supporting local, sustainable farming.

Three riverkeeper offices are taking steps to monitor recreational swimming waters. The Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper and Lower Neuse Riverkeeper offices have partnered to create Sound Rivers, a nonprofit organization that guards the health of the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico river basins. As part of this, they’re taking part in Swim Guide, an international water quality monitoring program. As a part of this the Riverkeeper offices perform weekly site sampling from May through August for E.Coli bacteria in freshwater and fecal coliform bacteria in saltwater.

Pamlico-Tar riverkeeper Jill Howell said the program compares the results to the Environmental Protection Agency’s recreational water quality standard, then shares the information with the public to let them know if the waters are safe.

“The state does some testing, but it’s pretty limited,” Ms. Howell said. “We’re not monitoring for everything…but we’re seeing areas that are contaminated all too often.”


CORRECTION: This article was updated at 12:30 p.m. Thursday, July 15, 2021, to correct that Sound Rivers is taking part in the Swim Guide program, it did not create it.


Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

(4) comments

David Collins

Rain gardens and permeable pavement ! Is she serious ? Rain gardens , mosquito farms , and permeable pavement have been tried but failed . The pavement can not take heavy traffic and over washes in heavy rains . Good in theory but always fails .

Too many people in concentrated areas building where they should not and clear cutting their lots . Add the lust for a yard of the month sign , way over fertilizing and watering just add to the mix . Yup , people are the problem and we just add more daily .

Farming be it corn or corn fed hogs and chickens is what it is . Ways suggested to mitigate pollution from these operations are being fought tooth and nail by the green lonny loons that want to ban farms in NC in general . Neighborhood produce gardens in Raleigh , Chapel Hill , ugh , and other green enclaves are just fine . Even though they have runoff as well . Shush , don’t tell , don’t tell .


Storm water runoff, the No. 1 cause of non-point water pollution on the state’s coast, is a major contributor to water contamination. Ms. Early said runoff can flow over impervious surfaces, carrying pollution into nearby water bodies, as well as cause sewage overflows. Nothing new here - all the "environmental non-profits lining up for a handout to find a solution where no problem exists. this is in terms of junk science - disgraceful.

David Collins

Most all these types need a cause to make them feel whole and good about themselves . Just turning a cause into a way to make money . A little like the CRT folks and the BLM folks . Done quite well for themselves , for themselves .

the secret life of man

Wastewater sewage from Shevans Park splashpad,shower/bidet is running into the Bogue sound at 16th st beach 8 hours a day at 600 gallons,,per day, 7 days a week with the approval of Morehead city public works.Come on down at low tide during the operation of Splashpad for a personal visit.

Welcome to the discussion.

As a privately owned web site, we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that contain spam, advertising, vulgarity, threats of violence, racism, anti-Semitism, or personal/abusive/condescending attacks on other users or goading them. The same applies to trolling, the use of multiple aliases, or just generally being a jerk. Enforcement of this policy is at the sole discretion of the site administrators and repeat offenders may be blocked or permanently banned without warning.