As part of our campaign to protect and improve water quality in North Carolina, SELC has negotiated an agreement with the city of Burlington to repair its aging wastewater treatment infrastructure. Following three spills totaling more than 3.5 million gallons of raw sewage in January 2014, Burlington delayed reporting the spills to the public for several days, with the acquiescence of state regulators. Our notice of intent to sue on behalf of Haw River Assembly and Cape Fear River Watch prompted the talks leading to the settlement. Now Burlington has committed to more aggressive system maintenance, prompt spill notification, and a total of eight priority infrastructure projects valued at over $11 million.
The State’s inaction in Burlington is only the latest in a disturbing pattern by those entrusted with protecting our health and natural resources. There have been three years of severe budget cuts, layoffs, and downsizing at the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, where $2 million in funding and 70 positions have been cut from water protection efforts alone. The state also recently rejected a half-million dollar grant from EPA for water monitoring. And the results are revealing: A 53% reduction in annual enforcement actions and a 67% reduction in annual fines for discharge violations between 2009 and 2014 with no evident decline in pollution.
In response, the Southern Environmental Law Center is stepping up to serve the essential roles of oversight and enforcement with the launch of an online resource to allow citizens to report problems for further investigation and possible action.