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Some Thoughts on the One Year Anniversary of Hurricane Florence

By Jefferson Currie, II, Lumber Riverkeeper

As Hurricane Dorian slowly churned through The Bahamas a few weeks ago, leaving epic devastation in its wake, millions of people along the Southeastern coastline mourned with those in the Caribbean who lost so many family and friends and so much of their lives. We also held our breath and waited for any news that would tell us who’s next and how bad. As the forecasting bobbed and weaved, we watched the storm weaken and crawl towards Florida, turn slowly north along the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, and ALMOST MISS the coast of North Carolina. After Dorian picked up a little speed and headed out into the Atlantic, we exhaled, grateful that this hurricane spared most of our communities, and thankful that the people and places impacted; were spared the destruction that fell upon our neighbors in the Caribbean.

Watching the path of Hurricane Dorian, I thought about Matthew (because it took a strangely similar path) and Florence, and I’m sure most folks in the Carolinas did the same. Although I can see and understand that the strength and effects of hurricanes increased in recent years due to climate change, what Matthew and Florence did to the communities and waterways of the Lumber River watershed and across the region, is still shocking and humbling. Looking back over the last year, countless hours of work done by individuals, civil servants, churches, non-profits, aide organizations, community organizations, governments and others has been done, we all know that there is still so much work ahead. Since this is the one year anniversary of Hurricane Florence and my one year anniversary as your Lumber Riverkeeper, I’m going to use the next couple of paragraphs to let folks know about some of the issues facing our watershed.

My job is to advocate for the Lumber River Watershed and the people who live here, so that we can all have clean and safe waterways. Whether you fish and/or hunt, swim in the river when it’s hot in July, take your boat, canoe or kayak out to enjoy the beauty of the river, hold church baptisms, or just walk down to the water and look around to relax, I think we all want the waterways in our communities to be safe. Hurricane Florence brought record flooding in much of the Lumber River watershed. The impacts of such catastrophic flooding on people and their homes and businesses won’t be repaired or resolved easily or quickly. After Florence I worked with multiple partners on projects that tested for pollutants in surface waters such as swamps, branches and the Lumber River, and sampled water from about 80 residential wells. Over the next year we will continue to do our own water quality sampling and work with partners on other sampling projects that will look at other issues with water quality. One of the major impacts to our waterways during flooding from hurricanes comes from the hog and poultry operations that are throughout the watershed. Many of these Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) are in the 100 year floodplain, and when they flood (and some did) dead animal carcasses and waste from the animals end up in our waters and communities, elevating the levels of harmful bacteria and other pollutants. As I am sure you have noticed, poultry operations are popping up everywhere, and because our state laws favor poultry growers there is little we can do to prevent these new chicken barns from being built, but we are trying to get our legislators to change these laws. One law that is a no-brainer is a ban on poultry operations in the 100 year floodplain. Even after Hurricane Florence flooded chicken operations, there is one (and maybe more) new poultry CAFO being built in the 100 year floodplain in the Lumber River Watershed. This is unacceptable and dangerous for the health of people and our water, and we hope that our legislators agree.

Since Hurricane Florence, there have been some efforts to lessen the severity of flooding in the Lumber River Watershed. There are ongoing efforts to address flooding in Lumberton, to remedy issues with the 3 drainage districts of Back Swamp, Jacob Swamp and Moss Neck Swamp, and there are crews now clearing debris and blockages in the Lumber River (they are not dragging the river). Some of these projects are long overdue, and I believe they will help alleviate flooding in some areas, but after talking with many folks who live in multiple communities across the watershed, I believe that the flooding that occurred during and after Hurricanes Matthew and Florence should be addressed through a comprehensive review/study of the entire Lumber River watershed from the head waters in Montgomery County, through parts of Richmond, Moore, Hoke, Scotland, Robeson, Bladen, Columbus Counties, to the Nichols, SC where the Lumber joins the Little Pee Dee River. A fix here and a fix there does not resolve the flooding issues in all of our communities, it pushes the problem(s) down the road and into our future. In the areas of our watershed with lower elevations, there are some ditches and canals that were trenched so long ago that we can’t say when it happened, but they are there, and they take huge amounts of water from low land and farm fields and home sites, to the branches and swamps that lead into the Lumber River. In some areas there are any number of more recent ditches and canals that do the same job of drying out the low, flat land where many live and work. Instead of continuing this process of piecemeal work here and there, with county and local governments just “fixing” their own problems, we need our elected officials to talk to each other and then to hire a team of hydrology engineers who can start the process of mapping where the water goes when we get 15 to 30 inches of rain. Before we can get a handle on the situation we need to understand the problems. If not, I fear that we’ll be right back at the same place, having the same conversations after the next hurricane.

If you have any questions or issues with water quality in your community in the Lumber River Watershed, you can email me at lumberrk@winyahrivers.org or call me at 910-668-0372.

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Winyah Rivers Alliance

P.O. Box 554 | 301 Allied Drive
Conway, SC 29528
843 .349 .4007
winyahrivers@winyahrivers.org

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