Something in the Water: Public-Private Efforts to Improve Quality

November 7, 2016 - Stephanie Carson, Public News Service (NC)

RALEIGH, N.C. -- It's a literal trickle-down effect: water that runs off the mountains of western North Carolina, flows into streams that work their way across the state to the coast. And a joint effort between the state, feds, nonprofits and local land owners is working to improve water quality. 

Many of the projects are coordinated by the nonprofit Resource Institute, which uses public dollars to repair streams and mitigate runoff. According to Tim Reader, assistant secretary at the Department of Environmental Quality, the entire state benefits from even the smallest projects. "By repairing these streams up when they're smaller and up in the headwaters area of these streams, basically what you're doing is removing all this pollution that would eventually make its way downstream into our rivers," Reader said.

In North Carolina, the Resource Institute manages the Western Initiative, which is involved in projects that stabilize streams, improve aquatic habitat, protect wildlife corridors, reduce sediment and improve drinking water. To date, the Western Initiative has completed 85 projects in North Carolina. The Western Initiative's Mount Airy Greenway project on the Ararat River is another example. State Representative Kyle Hall, who serves Rockingham and Stokes counties, said partnerships between the public and private sector make all the difference.

"Down in Raleigh when we're serving, we don't know what every single issue looks like in the state," Hall said. "We're not experts on everything, so it's nice to have the resources to come in and be the experts for us and be able to point at the issues that we're having, especially with the stream bank restoration which they're really focusing on."  The Western Initiative also works with farmers in western North Carolina to repair damaged streams that make farm land unusable. Tim Beard, North Carolina State Conservationist for the USDA, said the impact is significant.

"Agricultural land is going to be more and more important, as we try to feed an increase in population. We can't afford to lose good, productive agricultural land for the simple fact that it is the foundation of this country," Beard said. "So it is critical that we try to restore and conserve as much farm land as we can." Projects that mitigate runoff and that direct water in a way that mirrors natural flows, help improve irrigation on farms and enhance recreational activities on rivers and streams.