May 062013
 

reflector

 

By Ginger Livingston

Monday, May 6, 2013

Language that would have exempted privately owned land along area river basins from certain environmental regulations was removed from legislation passed by the state Senate last week.

The section was removed because a word change approved during a Senate committee hearing would have created unintended consequences, said Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, one of bill’s primary sponsors.

The change was one of four amendments the Senate approved before it passed SB 612, the Regulatory Reform Act 2013, on Thursday. The Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 now goes to the House for review and debate.

The section the Senate excluded involved riparian buffers, stretches of land with trees and natural vegetation that filter runoff from adjacent property that has been developed or is used for agriculture or logging operations.

The buffers are the “kidneys of the watershed,” said Michael O’Driscoll, director of East Carolina University’s Coastal Water Resources Center.

The state has required property owners along the Tar-Pamlico and Neuse rivers to establish and maintain riparian buffers since August 2000.

The reform act section on riparian buffers originally sought to exempt property that was under development prior to 2000 but stopped because of the regulations, Jackson said. The exempted land was identified as private, “platted property” in the legislation.

The word “platted” was removed during a committee review, and all private property was exempted from the rule.

“Sometimes when you do bills you have unintended consequences,” Jackson said.

Those consequences could have been logging operations cutting trees along the edges of rivers, streams and creeks, farmers plowing all land along a waterway or developers putting structures or septic systems too close to waterways.

Environmentalists, municipal leaders and farmers from both river basins protested the language.

“The protection of riparian buffers should be very simple, the buffers need to be maintained,” said Joe Albea, who produces and hosts “Carolina Outdoor Journal,” an outdoor show featuring hunting and fishing.

Buffers filter both surface runoff and excessive nutrients found in ground water, O’Driscoll said.

“People have found that they can get rid of over 90 percent of the nitrogen if (runoff and ground water) flows through these buffers,” O’Driscoll said. “We’ve even shown it here with some buffer systems in Greenville.”

When rivers, creeks and streams experience a buildup of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus algae blooms excessively, it robs the waterways of oxygen and kills other aquatic and plant life. When the algae dies, it rots and produces a terrible odor.

Along with filtering excessive nutrients, trees along riparian buffers also shade waterways, increasing oxygen levels, O’Driscoll said.

Low oxygen levels are a problem in the downstream portions of the Tar-Pamlico, he said.

Research by U.S. Geological Survey scientists and others have measured the success of riparian buffers, but the requirement has critics because it can limit the development of property.

Farmers and municipal leaders wanted to keep the riparian buffer regulations because they still would be responsible for keeping nutrients out of the area’s rivers, creeks and streams. Riparian buffers are an effective tool.

“We realized (the buffer language) was going to be a problem so we decided to run an amendment on the (Senate) floor that just removed the riparian buffer (section) and didn’t cause unintended consequences,” Jackson said.

Even with the removal of the riparian buffer exemption and three other amendments, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 remains unpopular with environmentalists, said Heather Jacob Deck, Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper.

“We still don’t support the bill as a whole because there are parts that are pretty damaging,” Deck said.

“One of the big things with (the legislation) is that they are taking away local government’s ability to set benchmarks higher than state or federal guidelines,” she said.

State guidelines are a set of standards for managing environmental protections, Deck said. Carrying these protections out require rules specific to the river basin because each one has a unique system.

Deck said methods for protecting a river in the mountains would not work for a coastal plains river.

Jackson said he thinks state law is sufficient for protecting our state’s waterways.

“From 2000 to 2010, there were 15,000 new rules put on the books,” Jackson said. “There should be plenty of rules on the books to cover everybody.”

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.

via The Daily Reflector.

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