Perspectives Online, The Magazine of The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Summer 2009 Issue

Spreading the Word - Extension creates watershed protection partnerships to leverage limited resources and give counties the tools to help 
preserve water quality. By Art Latham

A great egret reposes at Lake Crabtree, one of the Wake County sites where Extension is working to keep clean water rules in effect, with installations such as the WaterWise gardening area (shown below).
Photo by Art Latham

For decades, local governments have floated in a sea of locally to federally mandated rules that limit how much rain-borne pollution can legally enter our waterways and, thus, our drinking water supply.

Across the state, North Carolina Cooperative Extension agents, backed by research-based information from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at N.C. State University, provide beleaguered public officials and others with real-world solutions to regulatory compliance.

Pictured is a recreation area near the lake.
Photos by Art Latham
For instance, from 2003 to 2008, N.C. Cooperative Extension specialists and agents developed and delivered scores of storm-water Best Management Practice (BMP) workshops to public officials, engineers and other professionals and homeowners, including 83 in Wake County and 12

in Durham County. Simultaneously, Extension agents and other educators in the College’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) established more than 20 demonstration storm-water BMP sites to use during tours, field days and other public educational events.

“Regulation is the driver,” says Mitch Woodward, Extension area specialized agent for watersheds and water quality in Wake County. “Our education programs have been very well received by communities across our state because they address the regulatory programs.

“There’s an urgency here,” he adds. “Proper design and construction of engineered storm-water BMPs are essential in removing pollutants in runoff from urban areas. Even with the recession, the population influx into Wake and surrounding counties already has meant that impervious areas, those places where rain can’t go directly into the earth, are growing. This challenges us to deal with urban storm-water runoff and local stream bank erosion.”

The clean water rules Woodward and his colleagues help interpret are complex. Among other requirements, communities must have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to discharge untreated, polluting storm water into streams, Woodward says.

This rain garden, shown with the lake in background, is one method of dealing with storm-water runoff.
Photo by Art Latham
NPDES, derived from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 1972 Clean Water Act, includes a two-phased storm-water program. Phase I regulates storm-water runoff discharges from our state’s largest cities and construction sites that disturb five or more acres. In 1999, the EPA initiated Phase II by designating more storm-water sources for regulation in small towns and construction sites that disturb an area as small as one acre. Statewide, that affects more than 150 smaller communities.

To help simplify and spread facts about these regulations, Woodward and his colleagues drop “pebbles” in the form of research-based education into an ocean of unintentional ignorance and watch concentric ripples of knowledge spread.

For four years, Woodward — with Wendi Hartup, Forsyth County area specialized Extension agent for natural resources, and Annette Lucas of the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ water quality division — has taught “Illicit Discharges and Good Housekeeping” to Wake County communities and many others statewide. The class certifies town, city and county employees to respond to Phase II storm-water requirements that reduce pollution from municipal operations and communities.

“The original EPA 319 grant from the DENR’s water quality department that funded the workshops ended over three years ago, but we still hold them across the state,” Woodward says.

Another popular workshop series, he notes, is an innovative storm-water inspection and maintenance certification training offered by Bill Lord, Extension specialized agent in water resources, and Dr. Bill Hunt, BAE assistant professor and Extension urban storm-water management specialist.

Turtles sunning themselves at Lake Crabtree create a placid scene that belies the closeness of urban areas to the lake, where storm-water best management practices are in effect.
Photo by Art Latham
“We have held at least seven storm-water inspection and maintenance certification training workshops for engineers, landscapers, landowners and property managers in Wake County alone over the past three years, with each attracting about 60 participants,” Woodward says.

Woodward also recently began Wake County’s second annual “Watershed Workshop” series to train Wake County Environmental Services’ watershed managers and Conservation District and field staff. Wake County Extension agents and specialists developed a three-month series of classroom and field experiences to teach water-quality testing, watershed assessment, stream restoration and storm-water, erosion and sedimentation BMPs.

Woodward calls on College specialists to help teach the watershed workshops.

His diverse sources include but are not limited to the BAE and Soil Science departments. BAE experts include Dr. Jean Spooner, associate professor and water quality specialist, who directs the Water Quality Group and the Soil and Water Environmental Technology Center, and Dan Line, Extension specialist of the WQG. Also involved from BAE are Dr. Greg Jennings, College water quality education coordinator; Dr. Garry Grabow, Extension specialist; Mike Shaffer, Extension associate; and Hunt.

Contributing Soil Science Department experts include Dr. Deanna Osmond and Dr. Rich McLaughlin.

Also in Wake County, a Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant — along with an Extension partnership with Wake County Environmental Service, Soil and Water Conservation and the City of Raleigh — will help Extension establish rainwater harvesting and rain garden systems at several area fire and emergency management stations.

Mitch Woodward, who leads education programs on storm-water management and water harvesting techniques, installed this cistern at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve in Cary.
Photo by Art Latham
“This is a fantastic opportunity to teach residents about alternatives to watering their landscapes with treated drinking water,” says Woodward. “During last year’s drought, residents complained to our office about the stations washing emergency vehicles. Now we can turn each of these sites into an outdoor classroom.”

Woodward, more budget-conscious than ever in these lean times, has found that local vendors often will donate cistern and rain garden components to use in demonstrations.

And for do-it-yourselfers, Woodward has developed two DVDs on cistern and rain garden installation and maintenance. The DVDs are available through the Wake County Cooperative Extension office.

Through such efforts, many years of dropping educational pebbles now seems to be resulting in a spreading wave of knowledge.

The real-world results: A new Cooperative Extension Southeast Region initiative will spread “lessons learned” in teaching about water quality in Wake County and North Carolina into regional trainings with Extension colleagues from Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas.

With a $15,000 Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service grant, Woodward and a water-quality education team are developing what he calls “a Web-based Extension Learning Center” with resources other agents can use to teach about water harvesting and rain gardens.

“We’re not only helping Wake County but parlaying the information we’ve gained through cistern and rain garden installations to train others outside the state to do the same,” Woodward says.

That means that as far as water quality education in North Carolina and the Southeast is concerned, the wave just keeps on building and the surf’s up!