Local News

The Neuse River Runs Deep With Problems

Posted August 5, 1997

— A one-hour WRAL-TV5 News documentary, People of the Neuse, airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday and will be available on the web in the RealVideo streaming format.

Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians depend on the Neuse River. For many it supplies drinking water, fish to eat, and a place to boat and swim. But the Neuse runs deep with problems. Seven years ago,Bill Leslie discovered some disturbing problems with the Neuse.

Beyond the beauty of its sunsets and wide open waters, the Neuse was a troubled river when WRAL studied it seven years ago.

"The river's in a dying situation and we've got to care about it," said Stan Riggs.

Today, the Neuse may be hurting even more. There has been a dramatic increase in fish kills in recent years. Pfiesteria, a mysterious organism that poisons fish and eats flesh, had not yet been discovered in 1990.

Also, hog farms have sprung up along the river at an explosive rate. Scientists say much of the animal waste from these farms eventually gets into the river from runoff and through the air. Nitrogen from farms and sewage treatment plants rob the river of oxygen.

The polluters were pointed out in 1990. WRAL is happy to report that many of them including Hillsborough, Flynt Fabrics, Weyerhaeuser and Cherry Point made major improvements. But others have taken their place. Industries and cities like Kinston with troubles treating waste. And there are still plenty of mobile home parks and small subdivisions fouling the river because of treatment systems that don't work.

Dozens of schools along the Neuse were in the same boat in 1990. Most of their problems have been fixed.

Clear cutting continues to be the problem it was seven years ago. Too many loggers are stripping our forests bare allowing soil to wash off and poison the river.

Runoff from construction sites continues to be a big problem.

Following WRAL's documentary, state regulators started cracking down. There has been a sharp increase in enforcement of regulations and fines. And new laws have been implemented to nab environmental criminals. A Rapid Response Team has been established to respond to fish kills on the Neuse.

Still, there are disappointments. Many of the solutions recommended by the public and water quality experts in our study seven years ago have not been implemented. The state continues to reject the idea of a pollution tax. Money for research has been hard to come by. And despite seven years of debate, the state still has not approved a comprehensive plan to protect the Neuse River.

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