Politicians Muddy N.C. Creek’s Clean Water Overruling Scientists
The North Carolina House late yesterday passed HB 62 that reverses efforts by state biologists to limit pollution and protect native brook trout in Boylston Creek in western North Carolina, a tributary of the French Broad River, according to conservation groups. Acting to protect water quality and a resource that brings $174 million annually into the state, the Environmental Management Commission classified Boylston Creek as designated trout waters last year after state biologists documented brook trout in the stream. Trout are sensitive to pollution and need clean, cool, shaded water to thrive.
“Clean water protections from pollution are vital to both trout and people so today’s legislative action only benefits the polluters of North Carolina’s waters,” said DJ Gerken, managing attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center in Asheville. “Classifying waters for protection restricts pollution, but property owners can continue to use and maintain their property even within the 25-foot buffer.”
The Clean Water Act requires the state to classify all streams to ensure appropriate standards are applied to protect water quality. By overriding the state’s biologists, the General Assembly damages water quality, puts the state in violation of Clean Water Act requirements and undermines the state’s authority to manage its own, independent Clean Water Act program.
“Today’s political maneuvering would prevent North Carolina from adequately performing one of its most vital functions: protecting the citizen’s right to clean water,” said Tim Gestwicki, executive director of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation.
The trout stream classification expands to 25-feet the protective area that already limits grading activities adjacent to all North Carolina streams. This expanded buffer prevents pollutants and sediment from entering the water, provides shade to keep the water cool, and ensures trout survival and reproduction.
“According to NCWRC biologist there is a reproducing population of brook trout in Boylston Creek,” said Ned Jones, North Carolina volunteer representative, Trout Unlimited. “That triggers a trout water classification under the North Carolina version of the Clean Water Act. It also demonstrates that the current landowners along Boylston Creek have been excellent stewards of the land and this pristine creek; however, we cannot make an exception for just these landowners. The law protects these streams for perpetuity. That’s far beyond the lives of the current residents. The law also provides equal protection of all trout waters. There should be no exceptions. Providing this exception would set a dangerous precedent that could endanger this and other North Carolina trout waters in the future.”
Within the 25-foot buffer reasonable activity and maintenance of all existing property uses can continue, including the maintenance or reconstruction of homes, maintaining yards or vegetation, trimming trees, and most other activities associated with home ownership. The protected area does not apply to agriculture, livestock operations or commercial logging. Even for grading activities subject to permitting, the state can, and routinely does, grant variances within 25-feet of a trout stream.