May 31, 2007

Data Logger Blog

Ever get tired of reading about politics? Every blog has an opinion. Bill is busting on the new Reef and Wings megastores (and rightly so). Kevin is taking time to memorialize his thoughts the War in Iraq, while 5-Oh (aka OBR, aka HWNIcP aka oo0oo, hereinafter referred to as Man Offering Name That Insightfully & Clearly Exhibits Large Lack of Orginality or MONTICELLO for short)is busting on the North Carolina environmental movement and Paula is politicking for NEO and the new blog template. Ronnie is warning about mortgage scams and helping the folks at Village Realty keep you posted on traffic cams While Peter is sharing thoughts on the fate of Corolla's wild horses.*
Opinions and speculation are rampant in the blogosphere what we need here is some good old fashion data. Hard cold facts, numbers, readings, input or maybe just some accurate information.
I was biking on the beach road today and I happened on just that, real hard data. I noticed 3 technicians from Johnston Inc. working on a big white box with a solar panel attached. The box was perched above the Curlew St. stormwater drainage culvert across the street from the outfall where the drainage basin empties into the ocean. I stopped and spoke with Vincent Bryant, Eastern NC sales rep for Johnston, who was as heading up the installation of the box. He explained the unit was one of nine data loggers that were being installed to monitor the quality of the water in the drainage outfall system. Eight of the units will be installed on ocean outfalls, with the ninth located near RV's at Sugar Creek where the Whalebone Junction drainage basin empties into the sound.
The data loggers are being installed as part of a project funded by NCDENR and implemented by the Coastal Studies Institute. The project stems from commitments made by NCDOT during the negotiations over the purchase of Jennette's pier with grant money from the NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund. The short version is that DOT committed to getting the Whalebone outfall out of the sound. Only it didn't commit (if you believe DOT) or do it (if you can believe that). Through the good efforts of a lot of people including State Senator Clark Jenkins and then NH Manager Webb Fuller, the outfall project developed into a DENR project. The first phase off the project was to talk about what to do, for about 2 years. The next phase (the current phase) is set up to determine what is actually going on with the outfalls. How much water flows through them during what type of rain events. What direction it flows (yes, they are tidal and can actually flood the beach road when the ocean level rises ). What the quality of the water is, what types of pollutants are in it and at what levels. All good things to know if you want to plan to mitigate the impacts of the outfalls but facts, data, information that has been virtually non-existent prior to the installation of the data loggers.
The next phase will to develop Best Management Practices for each drainage basin. Some may be as simple as installing rip-rap or flow breaks in drainage ditches to slow the rate that water passes through them. Other areas may see solutions as sophisticated as irradiation of the storm water to kill pathogens (germs) in the water. A full explanation of the project and possible BMPs can be found at the Coastal Studies Institute website.
One thing the data loggers can't test for is germs. Samples will continue to be drawn by hand from each access on regular schedules. The samples will be tested for contamination, probably the pathogen entrococus, the state's standard for testing for fecal contamination. The samples will also be tested to determine the origins of any pathogens found. This will indicate the source, leaking septic tank or animal waste. This is extremely important since prior studies have shown that much of the contamination in stormwater has come not from human sources but from animal sources. Nags Head has been doing ground and surface water quality testing for the last 5 years. There is strong circumstantial evidence that much of the surface water pollution found, particularly in the SNH ditch came from animals. The ground water around the ditch is not polluted but the ditch is, go figure.
One solution I don't expect to see is the elimination of the outfalls. The volume of water they handle is simply too large to manage in any other economical manner. It would take too much land to hold the water and then infiltrate it back into the ground. It would also serve to raise the water table in much of Nags Head by a couple of inches and a couple of inches would cause a lot of areas to flood that are currently dry.
The installation of the boxes should be completed by next week, then the long hard process of collecting and analyzing the data will begin. It will be interesting to see what develops. If I hear or see any reports I will pass them on.
One thing this project does do is show the farce that is represented by the warning signs posted at each outfall. Several years ago the NC Dept. of Health and Human Services decided that each outfall should have a warning sign posted saying that it was dangerous to swim near the outfall. Not because of the physical danger from the pipe but because the water coming out of the pipe was contaminated. There was just one tiny little problem. Yeah you guessed it, no data. There was absolutely no evidence, no good science, no facts, no findings, no reports that actually showed the water coming out of the outfalls was contaminated. In fact the existing data from both the state and the Town showed the opposite, that the water around the outfalls was no different than the water elsewhere on the beach. The discussions around this issue led to some of the most incredible bureaucratic double-think that I every experienced in my career in government (remember besides 20+years at Nags Head, I have 30 years working for the Post Office). At one point the State was arguing that signs should be installed at each access and left up all the time since that would solve the problem, then they wouldn't have to test for pollution since the warnings that the water was polluted were already posted. The problem it would solve is that it would inform people there was a risk of swimming near the outfalls, whether it was true or not. The town's position was to put the signs up when testing indicated that there was pollution, then to work to identify the source of the pollution and eliminate it. The State never could quite get to that point, to them the problem wasn't the pollution, it was the sign. They were required to have a program to deal with this issue. If they put up a sign they could tell the Feds they had implemented a program even if the program did nothing to resolve a problem that no one could say with any certainty even existed. Confused? don't worry, that was their goal all along. State "scientists" basically saying don't bother me with data, I know the answer now just get out of the way.
All this brings us back to our new data loggers. 4-5 years after the discussions I described above somebody finally realized that there is not enough data to know what role the outfalls play. They also found the money to actually collect the data and analyze it. That's a very good thing and that's a fact.

* I hope I got everyone some love. Each time we link to each other our collective SEO pops up. You all have been sending me some; thought I would share some back.


At 9:33 AM, Blogger Ronnie said...

Thanks for the love. I am feeling warm and fuzzy all over

At 9:08 PM, Blogger Monticello said...

Jeez. It's way too hard to come up with a name that will make "The Man Who Was The Major of Nags Head" happy. I like TJ, so while not original, it represents a man I admire. I'll work on something else, next year. Or the year after!


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