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Solution for pollution

By Julie McClintock

Piedmont creeks need our help. Rainwater is running off roads, roofs and lawns and flowing too quickly into our creeks. Hard surfaces have replaced forest, dramatically reducing the amount of rainwater that sinks into the ground and, therefore, limiting replenishment of our groundwater. Rapid bursts of water scour our creek banks, degrade animal habitat and carry sediment and fertilizers straight into our creeks, pouring these pollutants into our water supplies. As our two towns have become more built out, the amount of impervious surface in our watersheds has dramatically increased. Commercial development magnifies this impact. As new developments come along, we need to do a better job of managing rainfall that can no longer soak into our soil, instead running off into our creeks and Jordan Lake.

What is Carrboro doing about stream protection? Tuesday night, Carrboro agreed to pass Jordan Lake rules to reduce nutrients (that is, nitrogen and phosphorus) in rainwater runoff that pollutes our creeks and drinking supplies. Yet, at the same time, developers can still take advantage of an option of making payments in lieu in order to comply with this new standard. Michelle Johnson and other board members asked town staff to look into the possibility of Carrboro setting up a structure that would allow the town to bank fees for watershed protection for the direct benefit of Carrboro creeks. Such a program would set an example for UNC and towns where fees go to projects far away from the damage done to local creeks.

How will the town control for water volume? A good stormwater program controls for the total volume of water that flows into waterways, the topic of the second ordinance considered by the Carrboro board on Tuesday night. At a Friends of Bolin Creek symposium held in February, local watershed professionals identified volume controls as needed as part of local ordinances. Readers can learn more at bolincreek.org/blog/symposium-2/presentations

In talking to Carrboro environmental planner Randy Dodd, we learned the town considered several approaches in designing the Volume Control Ordinance to address this crucial gap in stream protection. Carrboro’s new ordinance requires stormwater facilities as part of development plans up front, with the advantage that the developers will now know what to expect from the start.

Although members of the Friends of Bolin Creek’s technical committee were concerned the permitted volume-control numbers were too high, they urged the board of aldermen to put in place the new ordinance as a first step. Board members did question the allowable volumes but in the end approved the ordinance unanimously, seeing the wisdom of putting in place a standard that will bring certain improvements to upcoming projects.

What are the next steps for Carrboro? In a final resolution, the board agreed to work toward further reductions and resolved to revisit the many good questions that have been raised by its planning board and community experts. It also requested that the town’s Environmental Advisory Board evaluate the effectiveness of current ordinances, address concerns and discuss potential improvements with local experts within a year. Sammy Slade noted the need to take into account the limits of water pollution loading on the land when making zoning decisions.

How are the Friends of Bolin Creek helping? We are encouraged by these actions in Carrboro and excited by future improvements that could bring our two towns in line with stormwater programs considered to be the best in the nation for protecting the environment. We need to improve the tools we offer developers in promoting the infiltration of rainwater into the ground. We want to promote incorporating these methods early in the planning phase, using methods such as bio-retention, rain gardens, rain barrels, cisterns, detention basins, curb cutouts, treating water close to the source and disconnecting downspouts. Low-impact development would require new development to meet the carrying capacity of the land; then we wouldn’t have to try to pay to fix the environmental problems later.

Our community should be thrilled at seeing Carrboro’s commitment to promoting a healthier environment for our two towns, including better stewardship of Bolin Creek.

Julie McClintock is president of the Friends of Bolin Creek.

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