Friday, December 29, 2023

Key Actions by DEQ in 2023 protected NC’s environment and public health

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) achieved milestones this year in its mission to provide science-based environmental stewardship for the health and prosperity of all North Carolinians.
Dec 29, 2023

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) achieved milestones this year in its mission to provide science-based environmental stewardship for the health and prosperity of all North Carolinians.

In 2023, DEQ invested nearly $800 million in North Carolina’s infrastructure and communities, continued robust protections for air quality and drinking water and developed new strategies for reducing PFAS contamination.

“DEQ continues to lead the nation on addressing PFAS and we are committed to protecting public health and our natural resources in every aspect of our work,” said Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser. “As North Carolina makes key investments in infrastructure and resilience, DEQ continues to ensure that a healthy economy and a healthy environment work hand in hand.”

View "2023 By The Numbers" Infographic 

Key actions throughout the year include:

  • North Carolina continues to lead the way on addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. Since releasing the Action Strategy for PFAS on June 7, 2022, DEQ has taken significant action to address PFAS with a focus on protecting communities, protecting drinking water and cleaning up existing contamination.
    • In June 2023, DEQ launched a program under the Bernard Allen Emergency Drinking Water Fund to support North Carolina residents that have PFAS contamination in their private drinking water wells. 
    • To complement the proposed federal drinking water regulations, DEQ is proposing state groundwater and surface water standards for specific PFAS compounds. After a review of scientific data by the Secretaries Science Advisory Board, DEQ is moving forward with rule-making presentations to the Environmental Management Commission.
  • In 2023, DEQ’s Division of Water Infrastructure awarded $733.5 million for 367 drinking water, wastewater, stormwater and lead service line replacement projects. That includes $82 million to 97 communities for stormwater construction and planning projects in the new Local Assistance for Stormwater Infrastructure Investments funding program and $47 million to 47 communities in Lead Service Line Replacement program projects.
  • The North Carolina Flood Resiliency Blueprint made significant progress this year, with extensive input and feedback from stakeholders on foundational work of the draft framework. The Blueprint moves into Phase 2 for 2024 and the next steps in the goal of a statewide approach to flood resiliency to better protect North Carolina residents and communities from future flooding.
  • DEQ launched the new AccessDEQ digital hub, including online applications for Erosion & Sediment Control and the Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA) permits and an online public records request system. AccessDEQ builds on the results of DEQ’s Permitting Transformation Program, a multi-year effort, to provide online access to permitting information and services across the Department. The AccessDEQ hub will continue to expand as additional online tools for permits, records and data become available.
  • Two DEQ programs celebrated 200-year milestones:

 Reducing and Preventing Contamination from Emerging Compounds

  • DEQ required Chemours to expand drinking water well sampling in the counties downstream of the Fayetteville Works Facility for GenX and other Chemours related PFAS compounds. This resulted in more than 14,100 residences potentially qualifying for free sampling.
  • Private well sampling continues in eight North Carolina counties, four near Chemours and four downstream, to determine the extent of PFAS contamination from the facility. As of December 2023, 18,593 wells have been tested and 8,800 households qualified for replacement water.
  • The Division of Water Infrastructure (DWI) offered the first round of the federal Emerging Contaminants funds to be awarded in February 2024. Emerging Contaminant funding is available to local government units, non-profit water corporations and investor-owned drinking water companies for planning or construction projects addressing PFAS in water or wastewater systems.
  • DEQ’s Public Water Supply Section offered free PFAS sampling to 652 privately-owned community water systems and non-transient, non-community schools and daycares to assess PFAS in drinking water across the state. The sampling will provide water systems with valuable information related to their potential compliance status with proposed federal PFAS regulations and connect them with technical assistance and available funding through DWI based on their results.
  • The Division of Waste Management (DWM) is requiring all solid waste sanitary landfills to include PFAS analyses of all regular groundwater, surface water and leachate samples (letter distributed March 13, 2023).
  • DEQ is adding permit conditions related to PFAS as appropriate. The Division of Water Resources is adding PFAS sampling conditions to Industrial and Municipal permits known to have wastewaters containing PFAS or likely to contain PFAS as identified in a December 2022 EPA memorandum. In addition, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program is working with municipalities with pretreatment programs to establish effluent sampling at their Significant Industrial Users SIUs and to encourage PFAS reduction by product elimination or substitution, and best management practices.

Investing in North Carolina Communities

  • As of July 2023, the DWI has awarded more than 99% of available American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding across three funding rounds (2022-2023). As of Sept. 25, 2023, $1.5 million in ARPA funds remained and was available for the Fall 2023 funding round. Awards from that funding round will be announced after the Feb. 20, 2024, State Water Infrastructure Authority meeting.
  • DEQ’s Division of Air Quality has distributed more than $92 million for clean vehicles and EV chargers under the North Carolina Volkswagen Settlement Program. In December, state agencies received the final grants, $739,000 to install Level 2 electric Vehicle charging stations. Since 2019, awarded projects include 84 all-electric, zero-emission vehicles and 350 lower emission vehicles, including school buses, transit buses and heavy-duty trucks and equipment; 166 DC Fast charging ports at 86 sites and 901 Level 2 charging ports at 224 sites.
  • The Brownfields Section of DWM secured a $2 million MARC Assessment Grant from the EPA, completing six assessments in three historically disadvantaged areas in North Carolina.
  • DEQ’s Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service provided $1.24M in recycling grant funding to 17 businesses and 23 local governments for projects that are expected to create 135 new jobs and divert an additional 20,292 tons of food waste and 50,584 tons of recycling from landfill disposal annually. The division also awarded the inaugural Food Waste Reduction Grant for 11 projects to reduce food waste.
  • The Division of Coastal Management (DCM) awarded $2.27 million in grants to coastal communities for technical assistance in risk assessment and resilience planning work through the Resilient Coastal Communities Program (RCCP). In November, DCM received more than $3 million dollars as one of 109 grants announced by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and NOAA. The award will support local government projects through the RCCP. Additionally, DMF was awarded more than $89,000 as part of the same national grant. The DMF award will be used for final design and planning to install living shorelines and low-impact stormwater retrofits.
  • DCM awarded more than $2.8 million to nine local governments to improve public access to coastal beaches and waters for the 2023-24 fiscal year and awarded $117,750 to six local governments for beach, shoreline and water management projects.

Protecting the Environment

  • Secretary Biser convened the North Carolina Circular Economy Council to identify ways to expand, accelerate and highlight the beneficial impacts of recycling infrastructure in the state with industry leaders. The council met four times and hosted three tours of innovative recycling facilities.
  • DEQ’s State Energy Office Weatherization Assistance Program completed work on 968 homes in 2023, replacing 746 total heating units. The program helps low-income North Carolinians save energy, reduce their utility bills and stay safe in their homes.
  • The Waste Reduction Partners team of volunteer engineers provided on-site assessments to 136 organizations with projected annual utility savings of $5.81 million and greenhouse gas emission reductions of 20,983 metric tons CO2e.
  • DEQ's Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) launched online membership applications, online annual reporting and an energy toolkit loaning program for members. The ESI program includes 102 members at 205 sites and in 2023, members reported saving $5.4 million through environmental projects reducing water use by more than 151 million gallons, material consumption by almost 186,000 tons, and energy consumption by more than 1.2 million mmBtu.   
  • DWM’s Underground Storage Tank program continues to lead EPA Region IV in petroleum incident closures at 829, which is a new yearly record for the program. This is also the highest yearly total for any state and greater than the total closures reported by eight of the10 EPA regions.
  • The Division of Mitigation Services received requests to provide mitigation for 315 development projects. These included 55,250 stream credits, 123 acres of wetland, 1 million square feet of buffer (25.6 acres), 4,805 pounds of nitrogen and 5,871 pounds of phosphorous.
  • In May, the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission approved Supplement A to Amendment 1 of the Striped Mullet Fishery Management Plan, authorizing regional season closures estimated to reduce harvest by 20% while the Striped Mullet Fishery Management Plan Amendment 2 is under development. Amendment 2 is tentatively scheduled for adoption in 2024. The Division of Marine Fisheries is also developing Amendment 1 to the N.C. Spotted Seatrout Fishery Management Plan, Amendment 5 to the N.C. Eastern Oyster Fishery Management Plan, and Amendment 3 to the N.C. Hard Clam Fishery Management Plan.
  • DMF’s Shellfish Rehabilitation Program launched a new flagship vessel, RV Oyster Creek, which began deploying cultch materials in August after a multi-year refit. In the first three months of service, the RV Oyster Creek deployed 70,000 bushels of material. In total, Shellfish Rehabilitation staff constructed approximately 37 acres of new oyster habitat using 300,000 bushels of shell and limestone marl in 2023.
  • DMF’s Artificial Reef Program enhanced four ocean reefs, including approximately 1,700 tons of recycled concrete deployed at AR-305 off Beaufort Inlet. Other deployments included project partnerships with the U.S. Coast Guard, Eternal Reefs, Veterans Memorial Reefs and the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina.  Planning and permitting is underway for three projects in 2024.
  • DMF’s Oyster Sanctuary Program completed year three of construction at Cedar Island Oyster Sanctuary in partnership with the North Carolina Coastal Federation. This year’s construction used 15,800 tons of limestone marl, creating 16.05 acres of oyster habitat. The Oyster Sanctuary Program is also establishing two new sites, Maw Point and Brant Island Oyster Sanctuaries, both in southwest Pamlico Sound.
  • The Coastal Reserve introduced its “Discover the NC Coastal Reserve” tour this year to raise awareness about the Reserve and the role the 10 sites and programs play in protecting NC’s coastal resources now and into the future. The tour kicked off in June at the Currituck Banks Reserve with a successful grand reopening and dedication of the refurbished boardwalk and the Bird Island Reserve was highlighted at an event in December.

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