When the Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative donated land recently to the state of North Carolina, the state’s Wetland Restoration Program received its first formalized easement: a legal contract that specifies that the land remain undeveloped and its restoration efforts remain permanently. At the same time, water quality professionals from across eastern North Carolina gained a new research site. But the real focus of the March celebration had as much to do with the partnerships involved as it did with improving the water quality in the White Oak River Basin.
"We talk all the time about how important partnerships are in getting things done the right way," says Dr. Nancy White, extension program leader for the School of Design at N.C. State University and the lead specialist in the project. "This wetland restoration project is the epitome of the partnering concept put in action."
The Cartert-Craven Electric Cooperative, located in Newport, is donating five acres of land to the state of North Carolina so that it can be restored to its original wetland status.
"We all need to do our part, and this is a great example of small business taking a leadership role in environmental restoration," White says.
According to White, this project will generate useful information on land-use strategies that will protect the area’s resources. The objectives of the project are to measure the effect of land-use change on shellfish beds that must be closed and to assess what can be done to mitigate those impacts.
Mitigation efforts will include riparian buffer restoration, raised bioreten-tion areas and peat filters.
White believes that such restoration efforts will promote acceptance of new and innovative design and landscape techniques that can be blended with development plans to promote water quality.
At the university level, N. C. State’s School of Design and Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, as well as Duke University’s School of the Environment, all have roles in the project. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service and North Carolina Sea Grant program are also project leaders.
At the state level, the project has working partnerships with the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund; the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Division of Water Quality; the Wetlands Restoration Program; and the Division of Environmental Health, Shellfish Sanitation Program.
"What began as a way to help improve water quality and reduce shellfish closures has emerged as a perfect example of how Extension brings people together to solve community problems," says Dr. Jon Ort, director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service.
White notes that such innovative partnerships don’t just happen spontaneously. Extension, via White and Dr. Greg Jennings, associate state program leader for agriculture and natural resources, identified different avenues the project could take and facilitated contacting appropriate organizations, such as departments within the university and water quality agencies with the state.
"Putting together partners is an evolving process," says White. "As knowledge was gained, we saw opportunities and tried to think about the best methods and who the experts were that could help us address them."
For example, White says that working with the School of Design has opened new doors for the application of community design techniques.
One acre of the planned site has been graded, with the remaining four scheduled to be done by late summer. A private environmental consulting firm will plant a variety of wetland plants at the site. Local schools, however, have already begun educational tours, with some local teachers integrating the project into their science curricula. Tours involving water quality professionals are on tap for later this year.