North Carolina [Hurricane Florence]

Hurricane Florence made landfall on the North Carolina (NC) coast on September 14 as a Category 1 hurricane. Over three days, Florence produced record-setting rainfall, with areas along the coast receiving 20+ inches. River flooding forecasts suggested that Cape Fear, Lumber, and Neuse Rivers would crest well above their flood stage. As NC residents returned home, those reliant on unregulated private wells were solely responsible for ensuring the safety of their drinking water supply. Our prior RAPID flood-related research on well water quality after the August 2016 Louisiana floods and Hurricanes Harvey and Irma led to several key findings including: 1) private wells are at an increased risk of fecal contamination; 2) there are potential risks associated with well water pathogens that go undetected when monitoring only for indicator bacteria; 3) specific flooding characteristics (e.g., wellhead submersion) are associated with increased Escherichia coli positivity rates; 4) educational platforms are needed to train well users on importance of water testing and appropriate treatment methods; and 5) prevailing well water disinfection protocols lack efficacy research. In general, most well users in our flood-impacted communities only sampled for indicator bacteria, but given the well-known health impacts exposure to heavy metals, inorganic contaminants must also be evaluated.

We have teamed up with the University of North Carolina Institute for the Environment and Louisiana State University Health Science Center to facilitate sample collection and communication of results. We were able to do this through a National Science Foundation (NSF) Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant. RAPID grants support urgent and time-sensitive research investigating unanticipated anthropogenic (i.e., human-caused) or natural disasters. Our grant is titled, “Impact of Hurricane Florence on well quality in communities surrounding coal ash impoundments in North Carolina.” Read the grant proposal in full below.

This grant will provide flood-impacted NC well owners comprehensive testing and also highlight challenges unique to communities that are often subject to socioeconomic and environmental disparities. Moreover, this type of inland flooding is anticipated to increase in the near future according to regional climate models. Thus, there is a need for improved planning, preparation, and training. Ultimately, this study will provide data on contamination in private wells near coal ash impoundments after flooding and will provide insights into effective strategies for dissemination of resources and information for flood-impacted communities.