Oak Island Project Cuts Stormwater Flow

OAK ISLAND – A project designed to cut down stormwater flow into waterways around this Brunswick County town is proving to be a success.

Preliminary estimates show that the volume of stormwater kept from streaming down a series of town streets and ultimately into waterways around the island has been reduced by about 77 percent.

“So far, we are very impressed with their function and the fact that they seem to be infiltrating in the swales at a very rapid rate, which is owed to the sandy soils in these side street locations that were chosen for the project,” said Tracy Skrabal, a coastal scientist with the Coastal Federation.

She is quick to point out that the project engineer’s estimates are “very” preliminary.

The goal is to reduce pollution going into the waters around the island by at least 200,000 gallons during a one-year period.

Tracy Skrabal

Tracy Skrabal

An advisory committee of town officials and volunteers earlier this year identified six streets to install stormwater reduction measures. Volunteers are aiding in monitoring these streets through the end of 2016.

Existing drainage swales on those streets have been modified to be deeper and bigger to slow runoff and bio-retention areas have been constructed to infiltrate and clean run-off before it reaches estuarine waters.

“It’s a fairly inexpensive, low-tech option,” Skrabal said. “We’re not done yet. We’ve still some got replanting to do and some other work. We’ll keep watching them until they get stabilized. It’s a process of getting them stabilized.”

The project is part of a 10-year commitment by the Coastal Federation and its partners to mitigate the amount of stormwater pollution streaming into the Lockwood’s Folly watershed.

Projects like these not only solicit public involvement, they educate property owners on how they can reduce stormwater runoff using affordable, low-maintenance initiatives.

“We provide demonstration. We provide the science. We hope that these localities will adopt these practices,” Skrabal said.

Last year, the federation received a nearly $115,000 state grant from the N.C. Division of Water Resources to implement this particular project.

Similar projects in Wrightsville Beach have helped reduce polluted stormwater flow into waters around that beach town in New Hanover County, where the federation is also committed to reducing stormwater pollution in the Bradley Creek and Hewletts Creek watersheds.

Oak Island residents who’ve volunteered to monitor the stormwater flow say they have seen firsthand the difference these mitigation measures make on the streets.

“I’m very happy with the results that have been done on the grading on the street,” said Wendi Schneider(cqtt), one of the residents who monitors stormwater flow on her street. “It’s just done a wonderful job. I think it’s a total success on the street I live on. It’s just way, way, way better.”

The project has opened a dialogue with neighbors, she said, giving her an opportunity to explain how the design works and its benefits.

There’s been plenty to talk about with this year’s abundance of rainfall, Schneider said. Her rain gauge topped out at 11 inches of water following heavy rainfall at the end of September, when a series of coastal storms pummeled several North Carolina beaches.

Her home is one of about 20 lining Southeast 23rd Street, which ends at the Intercoastal Waterway.

“Water quality, to me, is key to our survival and if there’s things we can do that are easy like this, just making little adaptations to our streets, I want to be an advocate of that,” she said.

Stormwater pollution initiatives are taking place throughout the island. There are stormwater retention ponds and rain gardens. Property owners are using rain barrels to catch and reuse stormwater runoff.

“All of this is taking place on the island, but it’s not being done enough,” Schneider said.

An excerpt from Oak Island’s website asks its readers to consider this: a 60-foot by 100-foot lot can be clear-cut to make way for a house with a two-car garage, creating upwards of 80 percent of impervious surface. One inch of rainfall on a 1,200 square-foot area can generate up to 600 gallons of runoff. An estimated 2,400 gallons of stormwater runoff is created by each inch of rain that falls on a 6,000 square-foot lot.

Schneider moved to Oak Island 12 years ago partly because of the allure of the beaches and waters around the island.

“I want to be in as a pristine environment as I can be,” she said. “I think this is all about just walking your talk. If you love it, you better support it. It’s all about the quality of life we have here.”

About the Author

Trista Talton

Trista Talton is a native North Carolinian who, shortly after graduating from Appalachian State University in 1996, took her first newspaper job as a reporter for the Hickory Daily Record. She has since migrated to the coast, covering everything from education and local governments to law enforcement, the environment and the military, including an embed with Marines in Kuwait for the start of the Iraq war in 2003. She has been a Coastal Review Online contributing writer since 2011 focusing on coastal-related issues from Onslow to Brunswick counties. She lives with her husband and two sons in Jacksonville.