The Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ) was up before the NC legislative Environmental Review Committee last week. These committee meetings can be a harbinger of forthcoming legislation. Agenda items for the meeting included solar panel oversight, stormwater controls, riparian buffer protections, and the State’s nutrient reduction strategies. In his update on nutrient strategies, the Department’s Assistant Secretary, Tom Reeder, saw little benefit to implementation efforts over the last 20 years aimed at controlling nutrient pollution, questioning nearly everything the state has done to reduce nutrient pollution in the State’s reservoirs and estuaries but without exploring the causes. The premise for dissing these efforts is that monitoring data at the outlets of the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico rivers show little change in nitrogen and phosphorus loading.
Mr. Reeder wouldn’t have to look far to find reasons for the lackluster results. DEQ publishes assessments of the nutrient strategies in their basin plans. The most recent plan for the Tar-Pamlico Basin Plan was published in 2015. Its findings state, “reductions in the NOx (nitrogen oxide) concentration at all the stations tested in the watershed are offset by increases in TKN (organic nitrogen fraction) at almost all the stations in the watershed.” According to the USGS, sources of organic nitrogen include “animal wastes and urban and industrial disposal of sewage and organic waste.” If Mr. Reeder seriously wants to make nutrient reduction strategies work, he’d have mentioned what’s needed to identify and reduce these potential sources of organic nitrogen and not disparage what the State has worked so hard put in place. His update to the committee, however, was as troubling as the monitoring data showing that the gains made early in the implementation of these strategies has been lost with an overall result of little-to-no progress in lowering total nitrogen flows to the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico estuaries.