Sunday, January 22, 2012

State report assesses state’s environmental quality, discusses emerging challenges

Environmental indicators show significant improvement in air and water quality in North Carolina, according to the 2011 State of the Environment Report released by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The report—a science-based review of the state’s air, water and land resources—evaluates the quality of the state’s environment, describes DENR’s efforts to protect the state’s natural resources and identifies current and emerging issues.
“I believe, as does Gov. Perdue, that a clean environment is a vital player in a thriving economy,” DENR Secretary Dee Freeman said. “For years, North Carolina’s bountiful natural resources have attracted new residents, new companies and visitors, and this report outlines the steps DENR and its partners have taken and will continue to take to maintain clean air, clean water and abundant natural resources for the health, enjoyment and recreation of all.”
Highlights of the report include:
• Air quality has improved substantially since the 1980s. With the cooperation of business and industry, significant steps have been taken to reduce ozone and particle pollution with additional reductions expected as industries and motor vehicles work to meet more stringent federal air quality standards.
• The majority of the state’s lakes, streams and rivers have good water quality and support fisheries and fish habitats, provide drinking water and allow a number of recreational uses. However, about 40 percent of the state’s waters are impaired by such pollutants as mercury, bacteria and large amounts of sediment; in some areas, excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus have threatened water quality in both rivers and water supply reservoirs.
• The state has made significant progress in addressing nutrient pollution; management strategies for the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico river basins have successfully reduced fish kills and algal blooms. Similar strategies have been developed for the Falls Lake and Jordan Lake water supply reservoirs.
• In the area of water supply or quantity, water shortage response plans have been developed to improve the state’s drought response, groundwater data collection has increased, aquifers have started to recover in the Central Coastal Plain and water supply models are being developed for most of the 17 major river basins.
• The state continues to make progress in cleaning up contaminated properties and in helping to provide alternative water supply where drinking water wells have been contaminated.
• After a decade of strong growth, the rate of land conservation has declined since 2009. However, the state continues to work on protection of key parcels, focusing on acquiring lands critical for water quality protection, wildlife habitat, recreation, agriculture and military activities.
Some emerging issues that DENR faces include the completion of a legislatively mandated state study to identify issues associated with oil and gas exploration in the state, focusing on the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to extract shale gas; the potential impacts of climate change in North Carolina; new federal air quality standards, which will require additional program resources at the state level; rapid population growth and development in some parts of the state, which put additional stress on water bodies and other sensitive natural areas and can make attainment of new, stricter air quality standards an ongoing challenge; water supply and the allocation of water resources between competing water users; and department-wide program impacts brought about by the recent recession and resulting state fiscal constraints.
The report can be found by visiting DENR’s home page and clicking on the “State of the Environment” tab near the center of the page.

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