Monday’s numbers: A closer look at the state’s weathered and polluted waters


Only one river basin in North Carolina, the Savannah, has no waterways on the impaired list. Basemap: NCDEQ

If you connected all the miles of degraded streams and rivers in North Carolina end to end, they would stretch four times from the mountains to the sea. Add the total area of ​​degraded lakes, reservoirs and estuaries in North Carolina. state, and the width would be equivalent to nearly 2,000 golf courses.

The 303(d) list, named after a relevant section of the Clean Water Act, is a tally of degraded and threatened waterways, based on their designated uses, such as a shellfish growing area, water supply, drinking water or a waterway, fishing and bathing place.

Crabtree Lake, for example, is impaired due to a fish consumption advisory; PCBs from an upstream Superfund site – Ward Transformer – polluted the lake and contaminated fish. Near the coast, thousands of acres of shell-growing areas are designated as degraded due to fecal coliform levels. Faecal coliforms have also polluted mountain streams, including parts of Lake Junaluska.

Every two years, each state must submit its list for EPA approval; North Carolina is due this year.

There are myriad reasons why a waterway can become impaired and unable to perform its function. Faecal coliforms can escape from septic tanks or run off agricultural fields; mercury can be emitted from coal-fired power plants and then land in water; PCBs, which, although banned for more than 30 years, persist in the environment.

In some cases, the deficiencies can be as simple as dirt seeping from new housing or commercial developments. But dirt is not without danger. Large sediment discharges can smother fish and prevent them from laying their eggs. They can clog waterways and cause flooding, and make it difficult for water treatment plants to remove contaminants.

In a perfect world, the 303(d) listing would be purely scientific. But this can become politicized, with debates over how impairments should be determined. There is also money at stake for those responsible for the pollution. They could be legally required to further limit their releases to avoid exceeding what are known as “Total Maximum Daily Loads”. The state bases TMDLs on pollution severity and water uses. To meet these TMDLs, industry or municipalities or whoever is polluting might have to spend money on upgrades — money they don’t want to spend or don’t have.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality compiled the 2022 Degraded Water List and made it available for public comment. Comments are due by February 22. [email protected].

Here’s a look at the extent of weathered streams and rivers in North Carolina. Note that this is not a comprehensive assessment of all contaminated water bodies, only those that are polluted to the point of harming their intended use. (Source: DEQ 303 (d) list of documents)


2941.6 — Miles of degraded streams, streams and rivers in NC (2020), equivalent to 4% of this type of body of water

603 154.9 — Acres of lakes, reservoirs and estuaries degraded in NC (2020), equivalent to 26% of this type of water body

276.2 — Total new kilometers of impaired streams and rivers, proposed (2022)

99,813 — Total number of new acres of degraded lakes, reservoirs and estuaries proposed (2022)

149.8 – Total miles to delete, proposed

59,230.8 — Total number of acres to be written off, proposed

+126 — Net balance of miles, (offered less removed from the list)

+40 582.2 — Net balance of depreciated acres

Proposed new additions to the list

Stream/River Miles by River Basin

15 – Large

1.6 — Cap Peur

2.7 — Catawba

66.9 — French Wide

17.8 – Hiwassee

9.1 — Roanoke

64.2 – Neuse

36.3 – Tar Pamlico

62.6 – Yadkin-Pee Dee

Acres of lakes, reservoirs and estuaries, by river basin

525.8 – Lumber

942.3 —Neuse

62,889.8 — Pasquotank

33,801 Tar Pamlico

1,087.9 – White oak

567 —Yadkin-Pee Dee

Proposed write-offs

Stream/River Miles by River Basin

12.3 — Cap Peur

32.5 — Catawba

9.7 — French Wide

8.4 — Little Tennessee

14.3 —Neuse

1.6 — Roanoke

71 —Yadkin-Pee Dee

Acres of lakes, reservoirs and estuaries, by river basin

797.6 — Cap Peur

8.3 — Pasquotank

90.8 — Roanoke

49,602.4 —Tar Pamlico

7,420 acres – White oak

1,320 —Yadkin-Pee-Dee

Previous Featherston's water supply is in jeopardy as a crucial water main leaks into the riverbed
Next Closing attempt fails following changes to truancy law - Unicameral update