As we all know, Hurricane Florence was devastating for many areas of North Carolina and South Carolina. The rains that have fallen regularly through the fall and winter, has kept the Lumber River at, or just below, flood stage for months, and many in the watershed are wondering when the river will go back to a more normal flow. Such continual flooding creates problems with water quality and the quality of life for communities along our waterways, so we’ve been working with folks in many areas of the Lumber River to address concerns with health and welfare throughout the watershed.
In an on-going partnership, the Lumber Riverkeeper has been working with UNC- Chapel Hill, Virginia Tech and the Lumbee Tribe to identify households in the Lumber River Watershed that have private wells that are still being used for cooking, drinking, washing and other purposes. Although many areas are serviced by municipal and county water, there are clusters of homes scattered around Robeson and surrounding counties that do utilize well water, and since Hurricane Florence many of these folks are unsure of their water quality, and are still using bottled water for cooking, drinking and other needs. In the sandy, low land of Southeastern North Carolina, the ground water is often very close to the surface, and many wells pipes are “washed down” through the sand with water from nearby well. Often only 10 to 20 feet in the ground, these wells can be easily contaminated with floodwaters that have been polluted by CAFOs, industrial sites and other sources.
In a number of well water sampling events held at the Robeson County Agricultural Extension office in Lumberton and the Lumbee Veteran’s Center in Pembroke since October of 2018, people were able to pick up bottles for sampling on one day and drop them off full of well water the next day. While these samples were being dropped off in the morning of the second day, the Lumber Riverkeeper went door-to-door with team members from UNC-Chapel Hill and Virginia Tech, collecting samples from areas that had a high number of wells. Since the project began, there have been between 85 and 100 samples returned and tested for bacteria, metals and other pollutants. At follow-up community meetings, the results and implications are reported back to the well owners, with further consultation with those who have water quality issues. Through this project and others, the Lumber Riverkeeper is working to build a presence in the watershed, so that communities know that we are here to help them protect Fishable, Swimmable and Drinkable Waters.