Buffer violation

NC Senate Passes Bill That Eliminates Catawba River Buffer Protection, Prevents Local Water Quality Buffers


Contact: Sam Perkins, Catawba Riverkeeper sam@catawbariverkeeper.org

RALEIGH – Monday evening, the Senate passed S434 (“Amend Environmental Laws 2”) after language was added Thursday to repeal the 50-foot protective buffer along more than 1,000 miles of shoreline along the Catawba River and its lakes in North Carolina.

“It is inexplicable and indefensible not only to remove a coveted, protective buffer but to target only the buffer for the Catawba River,” said Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins, who spoke against repealing the buffer when S434 was considered in the Senate Rules Committee meeting Monday afternoon.

“The Catawba and its lakes need the buffer more than most river systems because so much of the river is dammed up into lakes with recreation, development and drinking water intakes. Wave action from boats will quickly erode away unstabilized shoreline, creating not just water quality and safety issues with sedimentation but also loss of property. Fertilizer use on lakefront lots also necessitates preserving some natural, undisturbed land to help filter nutrients and other contaminants in runoff, as buffers have been proven to do. Water quality can degrade quickly when water stagnates and does not flush through the system, and this is a major issue given that the river and its lakes also supply millions in the region with drinking water. Every little bit – including buffers – helps. These proven benefits of buffers are why buffers were passed for the Catawba and other rivers.”

According to multiple studies, strategy reviews and the NC Department of Environmental Quality’s own policy, buffers provide multiple water quality benefits: shoreline stabilization (preventing erosion, best so with trees rather than grass); nutrient and contaminant filtering; cooling of water; and habitat.

“People both on and off the lakes don’t just covet this buffer for its natural aesthetic value – they need the buffer as a component of improving water quality, which provides recreation, drinking water and property tax base. Buffers have been thoroughly scientifically studied and proven to have significant value in improving water quality. Developers have come to recognize the aesthetic and water quality values of buffers and voluntarily provided extra buffers. Even if someone would like to reassess buffers, the answer is not to repeal one in a highly populated basin first with only days for consideration.”

Among its eight pages of provisions, S434 also prevents local municipalities from enacting buffer protections on streams. This could affect active local buffers in counties like Mecklenburg and Lincoln. Current state law allows local municipalities to enact buffers if they are scientifically defensible. S434 would eliminate this option.

“The future mitigation costs created by this bill make it not just environmentally irresponsible but fiscally irresponsible. And the manner in which this was rushed through should be of critical concern to constituents. We hope citizens will express their concern to their elected officials.”

The Catawba River buffer was passed in 2001. In South Carolina, there is no state-mandated buffer, though individual counties, such as York County, are allowed to have (and have enacted) buffer protections.

The bill will now be considered in the House of Representatives.

A comprehensive review of buffers, including citations, is available here. NC DEQ information on buffers is available here.

A description of riparian buffers from NC DEQ’s website:

A riparian buffer is a vegetated area bordering a body of water, such as a stream, lake or pond.

The vegetated area closest to the body of water stabilizes the streambank and provides shade and habitat for aquatic life. The vegetation also acts like a filter and sponge to remove, transform, or store nutrients and other pollutants. The outer reaches of the vegetated buffer slow and spread out the flow of water over the land, trapping sediment and attached pollutants.

Riparian buffers filter stormwater runoff before it enters the stream. The vegetation within the buffer absorbs excess nutrients and sediment, controls erosion, moderates water temperature and provides habitat for wildlife. They also provide flood control and protect property.


How buffers work

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