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The Neuse River Runs Deep With Problems

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

Hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians depend on the Neuse River. Formany 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 Lesliediscovered some disturbing problems with the Neuse.

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

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

Today, the Neuse may be hurting even more. There has been a dramaticincrease in fish kills in recent years. Pfiesteria, a mysterious organismthat 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 getsinto the river from runoff and through the air. Nitrogen from farms andsewage treatment plants rob the river of oxygen.

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

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

Clear cutting continues to be the problem it was seven years ago. Too manyloggers are stripping our forests bare allowing soil to wash off andpoison 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 RapidResponse Team has been established to respond to fish kills on the Neuse.

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

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