Both agencies have been in touch with legislators from the affected counties and DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen and DEQ Secretary Michael Regan directed a letter to Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, earlier Tuesday outlining the details of the request.
“North Carolina families deserve to have confidence in their drinking water. We have deployed our experts to address the immediate concerns in the Lower Cape Fear region, but because of cuts over the last few years, long-term solutions will take more resources than our department currently has. It is critical that we have the engineers and environmental specialists necessary to put science first to protect our water,” said Regan.
Since 2013, DEQ, which is responsible for monitoring 38,000 miles of waterways, has seen about 70 positions eliminated that once supported the permitting, compliance and enforcement programs.
“This legislation would allow DHHS to create a Water Health and Safety Unit to enhance our understanding of unregulated compounds and protect families’ drinking water,” said Cohen.
The legislation contains appropriations in the amount $530,839 for the Department of Health and Human Services. According to the release, the funds will be used for a Water Health and Safety unit that would include the following additional expertise on water quality: a medical risk assessor, who is a physician with experience with poisoning and environmental toxicity; PhD Toxicologist to research and review available studies and formulate strategies to mitigate harmful health effects; information scientist/epidemiologist to organize data and perform high-level analysis to arrive at causation of harm; and a health educator to establish adequate public notifications and provide educational materials and briefings to the public.
The legislation contains appropriations in the amount of $2,049,569 for water quality monitoring and permitting for the Department of Environmental Quality.
Included in that total is funding for long-term water sampling for the presence of GenX by DEQ at a cost of $14,000 per week for a full year. Currently the cost is being funded by the corporation and performed by the Environmental Protection Agency and private labs on a time-limited basis.
That number also includes staffing the Division of Water Resources. There is already a backlog of wastewater permits, according to the release, and the review time can take as long as two years.
Four Engineers, three Environmental Specialists, two Environmental Senior Specialists, two Hydrogeologists, two Program Consultants, a Business Technology Analyst and two Chemist III are also budgeted in that $2 million to strengthen the Division of Water Resources so it can address unregulated compounds in the water discharge permitting program and allow more frequent sampling and faster evaluation.
Additionally, the funds will enable moving the permits from paper copies to an electronic database to integrate wastewater, drinking water and groundwater information and allow for easy searches.
The legislation would also direct the Environmental Review Commission to study whether there should be an exemption to the Hardison amendment that prevents the state from enacting stricter standards than those of the federal government.
In the letter, Regan and Cohen ask legislators to authorize the request during the General Assembly’s September session.