Stormwater outfalls that discharge into coastal waters have detrimental impacts on human and ecosystem health. Stormwater runoff often results in elevated levels of pathogens and nutrients, which can lead to fishing and swimming closures, illnesses, and negative impacts on coastal ecosystems. The Rachel Carson component of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve includes a series of islands and surrounding waters adjacent to the Town of Beaufort, North Carolina. Beaufort, like many older towns along the east coast, has been growing but its stormwater and wastewater infrastructure is not keeping up. This collaborative research project directly engaged Beaufort's Stormwater Advisory Committee and local schools in an array of efforts to understand the impacts of stormwater.
Through a comprehensive sampling regimen, the project team quantified stormwater impacts, including fecal indicator bacteria, nutrients, and sediment delivery to the coastal waters around Beaufort. The project team used the quantitative information generated to assess the impact of precipitation and tidal inundation on stormwater impacts, and evaluate the applicability of different microbial assays and sampling designs for identifying sources of fecal contamination. The team developed a strong working relationship with the town, which deepened understanding of stormwater management and the impacts of tides, and project findings helped the town identify problem areas and secure funding for water infrastructure projects. The application of this research can help other tidally-influenced coastal plain towns monitor and manage water quality in the face of climate change.