Ask for Stronger Water Protections in North Carolina

Join Waterkeepers Carolina to strengthen water quality standards. Ask North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) to adequately protect our waters and ensure they are fishable, swimmable, and drinkable for all North Carolinians.

The Clean Water Act requires states to review their water quality standards and classifications every three years and make any necessary modifications to ensure the protection of our waters. During this process, called the Triennial Review, North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) reviews current EPA guidelines, scientific data, and public comments and will make recommendations for changes to standards to the NC Environmental Management Commission (EMC). The Triennial Review is currently underway and this is your opportunity to let DEQ know that North Carolinians deserve stronger water protections.

This year, the EMC proposed a few changes to water quality standards, however, Waterkeepers Carolina believes additional updates are needed to adequately protect our waters and ensure they are fishable, swimmable, and drinkable for all North Carolinians. This is your opportunity to make the case to the EMC that additional updates are important to the public.


Waterkeepers Carolina has identified bacteria, harmful algal blooms, and PFAS as priority issues impacting water quality and communities across the state and will be highlighting these issues during the Triennial Review with the following recommendations.

  1. Bacteria: Establish a statewide E.coli standard as the pathogenic indicator in all surface waters
    Based on water quality sampling conducted by your Riverkeepers, bacteria in our waterways is a widespread problem across the state. Fecal bacteria end up in our waterways from a variety of sources, including leaking septic systems, improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, and industrial animal agriculture operations’ waste. When people come into contact with water containing high levels of E.coli or fecal contamination, it is a public health issue and can cause gastrointestinal illness, eye infections, and skin irritations. Currently, fecal coliform is used by the state of North Carolina to detect bacteria levels, however, the presence of E. coli in water is the best available indicator of recent fecal waste contamination and is the recommended standard for recreational waters by EPA. The EMC has proposed that 19 counties in the western part of North Carolina establish the E.coli standard; we believe this should be extended statewide.
  2. Algal toxins: Adopt the 2019 EPA-recommended cyanotoxin ambient water-quality criteria for recreational use.
    Excess nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, in our lakes and rivers can produce algal blooms. In some cases, blooms can be dominated by cyanobacteria, which may produce toxins that can adversely affect drinking water and endanger humans, pets, and aquatic life. These blooms are known as Harmful Algal Blooms or “HABs.” Currently, North Carolina does not have an ambient water quality standard for cyanobacteria or related cyanotoxins. Unfortunately, the state is not currently proposing one during the Triennial Review. EPA has recommended recreational use water quality criteria for two of the most common cyanotoxins, microcystins, and cylindrospermopsin. The EMC should adopt the 2019 EPA-recommended cyanotoxin ambient water-quality criteria for recreational use. In addition, the state should increase funding for the NCDEQ and the NC Department of Health and Human Services to monitor, identify, and respond to potential HABs, including posting swim advisories warning the public about HABs.
  3. PFAS: Adopt Surface Water Quality standards for PFAS as a class
    Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, and GenX. They’re often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they don’t easily break down and accumulate in the environment and human body. In recent years, North Carolina has become a focus of nationwide concern around drinking water contamination from PFAS compounds. We know that the source of these contaminants is from industrial pollution and landfill leachate through wastewater effluent to surface waters, land application of contaminated biosolids, and air emissions. North Carolina can not afford to wait to regulate PFAS compounds; communities have been drinking contaminated water for decades and are continuing to be exposed every day. Compounds in this class of pollutants share similar health risks, even at low detection levels. Based on the available science, a standard of no more than 20 ppt for the sum of all PFAS should be adopted.

Send a letter now to ask for these provisions to protect North Carolina's clean water.

Click here for a full list of proposed changes and updates being considered during the Triennial Review.