North Carolina Partners Analyze and Address Stormwater Pollution Threats

The Takeaway: Participants in this research reserve partnership project sized up the nature of the threat and produced resources designed to lessen risks for outdoor-recreation fans and the Rachel Carson portion of the North Carolina Research Reserve.

Aging stormwater infrastructure transports polluted wastewater into areas where people swim and boat. Labels include, “Variable rainfall intensity/duration/accumulation,” “Tidally-mediated stormwater overflow,” “Combination of human-specific fecal markers detected,” “Aging stormwater infrastructure,” “Shallow, fluctuating water table,” and “Tidal receiving waters used for recreation.”
Tidally-influenced stormwater overflow and aging infrastructure threaten water quality near recreational areas and the North Carolina Research Reserve. This project helped the Town of Beaufort identify problem areas and secure funding for infrastructure projects. Infographic credit: Hart et al 2020, adapted by Frank Ruopoli, NOAA

The North Carolina community of Beaufort is growing, but its stormwater and wastewater infrastructure has not kept pace. This means that tidally influenced stormwater overflows sometimes spill bacteria and harmful nutrients into nearby waters, which could lead to swimming and fishing closures, as well as ecosystem threats.

The North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve worked with the community and local schools to quantify the problems and find solutions. This multi-partner project was made possible by a $749,823 grant provided by the research reserve system’s Science Collaborative program.

The project team’s data on stormwater discharge and bacteria helped Beaufort secure funding toward water infrastructure upgrades. Other team products improved local understanding of the issue and aided water-quality analysis efforts.

  • Adopt a Drain, a citizen-science app to help quantify the volume of plastics entering storm drains
  • Lesson plans used by middle school and high school students to explore stormwater-, sunscreen-, and microplastics-pollution issues
  • Refined sampling, modeling, and analytical approaches, which other low-lying coastal communities also can use to better address their stormwater-pollution problems
  • A training for ecosystem scientists on molecular diagnostic techniques
  • Journal articles summarizing the scientific findings

The research reserve system’s Science Collaborative program is co-administered by NOAA and the University of Michigan. To learn more about the project and its products, view this site. (2022)

Partners: Beaufort Middle School, Duke University Marine Lab’s Community Science Initiative, NOAA Science Collaborative, North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve, North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, Beaufort Middle School, Duke University Marine Lab’s Community Science Initiative, North Carolina Scientific Research and Education Network, Town of Beaufort