A water quality study planned by the town of Wrightsville Beach and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill that was never executed last summer due to a lack of significant rainfall has again been approved by the town’s board of alderman during its July 12 meeting last week. The $25,000 project is bankrolled with enterprise funds from the public works department.
The study represents years of research into the cause of persistent fecal coliform bacteria levels that exceed state safety levels for swimming in Banks Channel following big rainfall events. The bacteria levels historically plague the same areas off of Waynick Boulevard north and south of the Blockade Runner Beach Resort and generally dissipate within a span of 24 to 48 hours
Utility system superintendent, Steve Dellies, initiated the study in 2008 in collaboration with the University of North Carolina Wilmington and the Division of Marine Fisheries. On three occasions those joint efforts included the dying of Banks Channel to visually determine which way the currents flow on both rising and falling tides and the flow of water from outfall pipes into the channel. The results of the dye tests in combination with monthly readings taken by Dellies and town staff from outfall pipes along the Waynick Boulevard corridor narrowed the cause of the bacteria to a human element.
As a result, Dellies applied for and received, on behalf of the town and the county, a No Discharge Zone designation for New Hanover County from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Alderman Darryl Mills supported the need for water quality enhancement but challenged the need for more funds to study an issue that has not produced concrete results.
Mayor David Cignotti worried that the board would be unwilling to continue the funding.
"We’re not going to write checks every year," Cignotti said.
Without results, he said, he proposed this funding cycle would be the study’s last and the speed of the test needed to be remedied.
Town manager Bob Simpson said, "We have come a long way in the last four years. I don’t think we really believed there was going to be a human element. We’re probably very close to identifying what those elements are and where they are located."
Alderwoman Elizabeth King asked if any recommendations have ever been made.
Alderman Bill Sisson said that UNCW’s Dr. Mike Mallin has said, "We know we’re not dealing with a point source problem, which means you don’t have to go out and shut somebody down."
When complete, the newly funded study will compare Wrightsville’s results with a similar landmark study conducted by UNC in Orange County, Calif.