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NC Coastal Federation Testing Finds High Bacteria Levels in Bridge Runoff

Advocacy
Bridge Treatment Needs a Second Look

A preliminary study of runoff coursing off the four-lane bridge between Manteo and Manns Harbor has found that improvements may be needed for treating stormwater from the state’s bridges.

At the request of the state Division of Transportation (DOT), Erin Fleckenstein, the federation’s regional coastal scientist, collected stormwater samples from the Virginia Dare Bridge from April 15 to July
15. Because of uncooperative weather — rain on nights and weekends when the local lab was closed — Fleckenstein was able to submit only a few samples for analysis. Nonetheless, the results showed that wetlands installed by the state to treat the stormwater from the bridge were unable to remove bacteria from runoff. Stormwater samples were collected directly from the bridge, as well as from an outflow from freshwater wetlands planted specifically to treat runoff. They were analyzed for fecal coliform, E. coli and Enterococcus bacteria, which are present in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. Control samples were also taken in dry weather. The results found that even the stormwater that had been channeled through the treatment wetlands exceeded state standards for water quality.
Although the sample size was small, the study points to a need for DOT to further evaluate its current methods for handling stormwater from bridges. In a report to DOT, Fleckenstein offered several treatment alternatives. “The one thing we know for sure,” she says, “is that we need to look at the problem more closely.”

Education & Restoration Teachers Immerse Themselves in Wetlands Public school teachers from across North Carolina gathered in Ocracoke in April, where over five days they enjoyed a working
vacation—while learning about the importance of wetlands. In between classes and field trips, the teachers planted thousands of marsh grass sprigs on Pamlico Sound. They were helped by 15 local volunteers and 135 students—the entire local student body. By the end of the week thousands of marsh grasses had been planted along 725 feet, behind a rock sill on the shore of the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

Perhaps most important, the 20 teachers returned to their classrooms with a working knowledge of coastal estuaries and fresh ideas and activities. The northeast region staff’s partnership with the state-funded teaching center was born when the federation received funding
from NOAA and the Restore America’s Estuaries program to help build a living shoreline at the center, which is housed in the restored Coast Guard station on an exposed shoreline on Pamlico Sound. Erosion had recently taken a severe toll on the property. The center’s programs are designed to reward veteran teachers with a week of relaxation and intellectual stimulation. Building the living shoreline at the center in
Ocracoke was a natural fit for federation’s environmental education. So Education Coordinator Sara Hallas and Northeast Coastal Scientist Erin Fleckenstein planned four days of classes and activities designed to teach the teachers about the vital link of estuaries in the coastal system.

Most of the activities carried a wetland theme—but not all. Staff from the Pocosin Arts cooperative in Columbia taught a class on how to make jewelry from recycled metals, such as discarded aluminum cans.
Field trips and other presentations were made by staff from the N.C. Coastal Land Trust and the state Division of Coastal Management.
Sara and Erin returned to Ocracoke to the center in July to give presentations for a seminar on barrier island ecology. The two staff members will lead another wetlands seminar in late April 2011. Interested teachers should contact the teaching center through their schools—and plan to get their hands and feet wet planting marsh grass.

Volunteers Needed in the Northeast

The Northeast staff is looking for volunteers who can help this fall with
numerous tasks, including extensive work in the rain gardens at Manteo Middle School, where a boardwalk was built this summer;
maintenance at the Columbia Middle School rain garden; and monitoring of our conservation easements in Tyrrell County.

If interested, call or email Sara Hallas at 252-473-1607 or Sarajh@nccoast.org.

8 Coastal Review • fall 2010

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