Columbia, SC – The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined last week that North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) may not allow land purchase or protection as a substitute for requiring the adequate stream flows needed for healthy rivers. EPA instructed the state to discontinue using the policies which allowed land for water swaps pending further review. In the same letter to NCDENR, EPA explained that certain land-for-water trades may violate water quality regulations, and it requested that NCDENR provide information on past applications of its policy for further EPA review. EPA’s determination could affect all North Carolina rivers with hydroelectric power dams, which include most of the state’s major water courses.
NCDENR is required under the federal Clean Water Act to assure that rivers have sufficient water flows to maintain fish and wildlife, recreation, and water supply. However, instead of meeting those requirements, NCDENR has been negotiating land swaps with the companies that operate dams along rivers. EPA explained that adequate river flows are essential for clean water and that North Carolina cannot trade them away. Just as life on land needs clean air, river life needs clean, flowing water for survival. No other conservation measure, even those with other public benefits such as land protection, can replace the essential values provided by water flowing in a river.
EPA’s determination is a great victory for North Carolina’s rivers and should better assure healthy water flows below hydropower dams in North Carolina and beyond. The determination could be especially pertinent to the Catawba, Yadkin, and Pee Dee Rivers where the flawed policy was recently applied by the state during dam relicensing proceedings.
“A healthy river requires both sufficient flowing water and natural lands to buffer the stream from development impacts,” said Gerrit Jobsis, Southeast Regional Director at American Rivers. “We applaud the EPA for clear guidance on North Carolina’s detrimental policy and look forward to restoring rivers where it was wrongly applied. While we strongly support land protection when it is done for the right reasons, acquiring land by sacrificing a river's health is never right.”
American Rivers is the leading organization working to protect and restore the nation’s rivers and streams. Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Since 1973, American Rivers has fought to preserve these connections, helping protect and restore more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual release of America’s Most Endangered Rivers®.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 100,000 supporters, members, and volunteers nationwide. Visit www.americanrivers.org, www.facebook.com/americanrivers and www.twitter.com/americanrivers.