At Coastal Carolina Riverwatch, we watch what is happening on land in order to see what might influence our waterways. Coastal NC faces the challenge of balancing our growth with the damage it will do to the environment.

From Beaufort to Topsail there are swaths of wooded areas being clear-cut for structures. This removal of trees contributes to the number one pollutant in US waters: Sediment. Sediment falls under the category of Stormwater Runoff and is one of the top concerns identified by our Water Quality for Fisheries study

Vegetation holds dirt in place with extensive root systems and the more native plants there are the more soil they can hold. Elderberry bushes and silky willow can even hold the sides of riverbanks together and keep the ground from falling in. The leaves of trees and other plants are important in slowing down rain water so soil is less disturbed when hit by water droplets, and the stems of plants slow water that moves along the surface of the land and picks up loose earth along the way.

Without that vegetation, water can more easily displace soil and carry it into water bodies. Once sediment is in the water it can cause some serious damage to the ecosystem.

Bottom dwelling organisms like oysters and sea grass can get smothered and buried by settling dirt.

Sediment suspended in the water can block light and deprive plants of energy. Cloudy water reduces visibility and make it difficult for fish to find food. Sediment loading events can happen naturally but dramatically increases in frequency and severity once the natural vegetation is removed.

According the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, uncontrolled soil erosion is a major concern in North Carolina, because of its effect on the environment. In 1973 the General Assembly passed the North Carolina Sedimentation Pollution Control Act that requires anyone involved in land-disturbing activities to take precautions to reduce soil erosion and prevent damage to waterways.

The law includes five mandatory standards:

• Prior plan approval

• Slope stabilization

• Establishment of groundcover

• Stream buffer zones

• Follow the approved plan

An erosion control plan is required, for disturbances larger than 1 acre, at least 30 days prior to beginning the land disturbing activity and must be approved before the land-disturbing activity can begin. Failure to file an erosion control plan or to follow an approved plan can result in fines up to $5,000 per day. Willful noncompliance is considered a Class 2 misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $5,000. An injunction or stop work order may also be issue.

At the coast, we are all too familiar with impacts to water quality being the cost-of-business for some, while NCDEQ offices have very limited resources to enforce State regulations. Coastal region inspectors are currently covering multiple coastal jurisdictions due to staffing shortages. At Coastal Carolina Riverwatch, we are building a team of local advocates to help bring awareness of the ecological and economical benefits to low-impact development and the high-cost of slash and burn practices.

What can you do? Take action!

Attend municipal and county planning board meetings to learn about upcoming developments and advocate for sustainable low-impact development practices.

Support local companies that use sustainable practices with a priority to reduce impacts to water quality.

Advocate for stronger policies and enforcement.

Report erosion and sediment issues to Coastal Carolina Riverwatch at

Don’t assume that economic interests and environmental interests are in conflict.

The idea of development vs. conservation is counterproductive to both ends. With that said, getting to a more sustainable future will rely on our ability to secure both thriving communities and healthy ecosystems.

We can best achieve this if developers prioritize low-impact practices, if local, State, and federal policies require sustainable low-impact development practices, if local, State, and federal regulations are enforced, and if we continue to learn from low-impact development research that will benefit our community and ecology.

If you notice water looking different around development, let us know. Again, email

Riley Lewis is Coastal Carolina Riverwatch’s White Oak River Waterkeeper.

(7) comments


Maybe the author should lead by example, and let the trees retake the land he lives on? Some of us are tired of you folks continuing to use heavy handed government control to push your agenda. If you want us to start to actively oppose your group, keep it up!


Really ? riverwatch talking about sedentary and run off is heavy handed govt control?

The dead zone in the gulf of Mexico grows larger each yr from runoff.

In the next few yrs I will be replacing my lawn with a rotating garden, and cover crop pattern. Free food, nitrogen fixing plants, and no run off. Not to mention bees and insects just love clover.

Shore Service

Drewski......I would love to do the same (rotating garden).....but my "heavy handed and controlling" HOA will not allow.


perhaps a community garden somewhere?

Shore Service

While one would think a "community garden" might appeal to my pinko commie left wing radical HOA, I suspect my use of pesticides and fertilizers might lead to my eviction and/or possible incarceration.


This crowd says they want "sustainable development" when they need to get public support for their agenda. When they get their politicians, regulations, and judges in place, you will find out how they define their terms. Again, does the author (or "drewski") want to see if their dwelling is in compliance? How much do you want to bet that the author and his organization have cashed checks from those who want to BAN any further construction within sight of ANY water?


Rules exist for a reason, usually something that has happened in the past. We already have zoning laws, setbacks, and the Cama regulations. If sediment runoff is a known problem ( it is) is requiring mitigation efforts such a big deal? Without such rules there are folks who would put an outhouse on their property 20 feet from your well.

Developers would clear cut, do their thing and do nothing to mitigate runoff as that would cut into profit. Govt overreach or sound public policy should not be so easily confused.

Welcome to the discussion.

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