Fighting Stormwater Pollution With Natural Strategies


WILMINGTON, N.C. — The entire state of North Carolina is dealing with a stormwater pollution issue, but a statewide initiative is working to use natural solutions to stop the problem.

Because water flows across county lines, stormwater service managers like Fred Royal in Wilmington are collaborating on the best solutions for everyone. What they have found is that natural spaces like wetlands do the best job at fighting stormwater pollution.

“It goes back to using nature,” Royal says. “You don’t have to over-engineer systems to create the same good.”

But rapid development has led to less available land for water to soak into, and so it often flows directly into waterways, carrying toxins and pollutants with it. In a wetland, the plants naturally remove harmful nutrients from the water and slow its velocity as it rushes toward the ocean.

“It goes through this entire facility here, which is several acres,” Royal explains. “But the water has to meander through like a snake. It goes over spillways and goes through a lot of plants and soil before it exits on the other end.”

Wade Park is 17 acres of wetland in the midst of a neighborhood that used to deal with flooding and bacteria issues from standing water. The park has completely solved that problem and Royal says he would love to put dozens more wetlands all over the city, but there simply isn’t enough available public land.

As a private landowner, Burrows Smith, the managing developer of the River Bluffs community, is doing his part to fight stormwater pollution by building his 600-home development with natural runoff strategies.

“I think we’ve taken the long approach out here and looked at what’s going to be better for the community going forward over the lifespan,” Smith says.

His development doesn’t use traditional retention ponds. Instead, he left natural spaces that usually serve as parks, but when it rains they function to hold water and slowly absorb it.

“The good thing about that is it doesn’t run off into the river, and it goes into the ground and there’s little microbes and the plants eat up the fertilizers and break down oils,” Smith says.

One of the most common misconceptions is that natural solutions are more expensive, but he says that’s completely false. In fact, natural solutions like wetlands are cheaper, more effective and require less maintenance.

“I just think we owe it to ourselves to respect the environment and if there’s a way to work within those constraints, why not,” Smith says.

For more information on the statewide initiative and other stormwater solutions, click here.

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