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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership - Ecological Flows

Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership

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Evaluation of Ecological Flows in North Carolina & Virginia's Coastal Plain

  Merchant's Millpond State Park, North Carolina. Photo by APNEP staff.

 

Timeframe: 2016 - 2018

APNEP's Ecological Flows Action Team has contracted with Dr. Michael O'Driscoll and Caitlin Skibiel of the Coastal Water Resources Center at East Carolina University to identify and collect ecological flow data for the Albemarle-Pamlico region's coastal plain, an area where established methods of determining ecological flow are limited. An ecological flow is defined as the volume of stream flow needed to maintain a healthy aquatic ecosystem. Understanding ecological flows helps ensure that aquatic ecosystems, and the human communities that depend on those ecosystems, receive enough water to remain functional and healthy. The overall goal of this project is to find, organize, and review currently available ecological flow data, which can then assist with analysis of ecological flows in the region and identify data gaps. 

"I think that especially in the coastal plain, it's important to study ecological flows because of all the population growth upstream in the Raleigh-Durham area," explains lab technician Caitlin Skibiel, who has been working on this project with Dr. O'Driscoll.  "It's all really interconnected." Growing populations use more water, removing it from waterways and lowering that waterway's flow volume, which can then decrease water availability downstream. Downstream water quality can also be affected, depending how the water is used for before it is returned to the system.
 
Within North Carolina's and Virginia's coastal plain, Skibiel is concerned specifically about low water flow increasing the effects of saltwater intrusion, where brackish or saltwater from the estuary reaches further upstream than it has historically. This saltier water can negatively impact freshwater ecosystems and cause issues for community water supplies.
 
Caitlin Skibiel is currently compiling data for the Coastal Plain Ecological Flows Evaluation, including identifying sources of surface and groundwater flow within the coastal plain of the APNEP region. This data will be coordinated with real-time and historical hydrologic discharge and water level, water quality, geomorphological, and meterological data. This data will then be centralized in a data storage and analysis platform, and analyzed in order to recommend: which river basins the Ecological Flows Team should focus on first, how to fill existing gaps in data, and applications to address further needs.

 

APNEP Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) actions addressed:

  • E2.2: Develop and maintain an online resource that clearly conveys regional information in support of ecosystem-based management.
  • A3.3: Develop and refine ecological flow requirements for each major river.
  • D3.1: Develop and implement a strategy to improve decision-maker's understanding of the costs and benefits of environmental protection, restoration, planning, and monitoring. 

 

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