Healing our local waterways Chapel Hill 2020 Symposium

Chapel Hill 2020 Waterways SymposiumMore than 175 participants gathered together this month to hear about ways to heal local waterways under threat in the Triangle region from urban development. The symposium, “Can We Heal Our Local Waterways?” was organized by Friends of Bolin Creek (FOBC), along with the UNC Institute for the Environment, and was held on Saturday, Feb. 11, at the N.C. Botanical Garden. It was sponsored in part by Chapel Hill 2020.

“The event exceeded our expectations,” said Julie McClintock, FOBC president. “The enthusiasm of numerous homeowners, elected representatives, staff working in the field, and many other citizens interested in protecting our waterways was infectious. It resulted in much wonderful productive conversation, including during breaks.”

UNC Institute of the Environment”s Michele Drostin, another symposium organizer, added, “Our goal was to bring science alive through our speakers, to draw attention to the good work local and state governments are doing, and to engage community members in a discussion of current actions needed to heal and protect our local waterways.”

Why is such healing necessary? As Chapel Hill Town Council member Jim Ward noted when he introduced the first speaker, “Rain washes pollutants away – but there is no away.” He summed up the problem by adding it all ends up in our streams.

According to the first speaker Nora Deamer with the N.C. Division of Water Quality, data from the Cape Fear watershed’s most recent Basin Wide Planning report show urban Piedmont streams are under widespread assault, including those in the Triangle area. The result, she noted, is a decline in water quality, as well as in aquatic habitats. Several factors that are producing these widespread impacts:

  • more impervious surface from more roads, parking lots and driveways, 
  • higher storm-water runoff as result of an increase in impervious surface, 
  • more sediment in waterways coming from increased storm-water runoff.

Rob Breeding of the NC Ecosystem Enhancement Program highlighted the studies he has conducted of local streams and illustrated how the origin of the pollution comes from many sources.

Trish D’Arconte and Randy Dodd from Chapel Hill and Carrboro, respectively, described the work of a state and local team effort to tackle projects designed to improve the health of the Bolin Creek Watershed, showing pictures of local stream restoration projects. In addition, they shared the challenges of working with the dozens of private property owners to enact these improvements.

National expert Kimberly Brewer with Tetra Tech, outlined 30 years of nationally recognized progress in Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Orange County and UNC, citing programs of improved stormwater management and streamside buffers among others. However, to be successful at reversing our waterways’ impairments, Ms. Brewer suggested looking at other communities’ innovative approaches. These approaches are found here (link) in her slide presentation. Examples included creating a Green Area Ratio to encourage water quality enhancing landscape elements throughout our towns and a system of stormwater retention credit exchanges.

A lively community discussion followed the presentations, which was led by Mike Schlegel, Water Resources Program Manager, Triangle J Council of Governments. Friends of Bolin Creek and 2020 participants are summarizing in plain language the key issues raised from the presentations and this discussion and will post them to 2020 to share with the community.

One immensely popular part of the program was a virtual tour of Bolin Creek, through photographs taken by local naturalist Mary Sonis of birds, mammals and insects that inhabit the area. Duke professor Scott Winton said of the photo presentation, “It really brought the message of clean water home in a powerful visual way.”

Winton brought his Duke graduate students to the Symposium to take part in the Community Exchange which attracted 22 organizations concerned with water quality and the environment. These organizations provided information about everything from North Carolina’s Natural Heritage Program to the Haw River Assembly showing what each of us can do to ensure clean water. Home Schoolers for a Healthy Environment considered the question “Is Fracking Safe?” and Orange County Erosion Control shared how they are working to protect our streams during construction.

View the slide presentations

A summary of citizen comments collected at the Chapel Hill 2020 table will be sent to the Town’s 2020 Nurturing Group.

One thought on “Healing our local waterways Chapel Hill 2020 Symposium

  1. I was very impressed with the expertise of the speakers and enjoyed the presentations. It.was a pleasure to bring our South Durham Green Neighbors exhibit to the event. I hope that we’ll have a similar event for Durham County.

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