SUFFOLK, Va. (AP) Virginia and North Carolina, longtime foes on water issues, have signed a first-ever agreement to help restore the second-largest estuary in North America.
In previous years, the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds have had massive fish kills attributed in part to pfiesteria, a lesion-causing organism. Scientists believe the deaths are a result of high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus washing into waterways, especially from hog farms.
After two years of negotiations, officials in Virginia and North Carolina signed the agreement Oct. 26 with little fanfare because both sides could not agree on a news release.
“This establishes a mandate that we’re going to cooperate and get things done together,” said Ernie Brown, regional watershed director for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation in Suffolk. “This now becomes our job.”
The states’ officials hope to invigorate a restoration effort that has struggled for years with lack of political, financial and grass-roots support. The agreement calls for state officials to share scientific data and to meet regularly on issues such as pollution, development trends, wetlands and water quality.
“When you consider the size of this estuary and the role it plays, yes, I am amazed we haven’t had more attention,” said Darlene Kucken, program supervisor with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources. “Maybe this will give us a little spark, a little more visibility.”
North Carolina and the federal government have been working since 1987 to help revive the Albemarle-Pamlico estuary the continent’s largest behind the Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia withdrew from the program in 1994 after Gov. George F. Allen took office and cut some state government activities.
Virginia and North Carolina have sued each other for more than a decade over water rights and the Lake Gaston pipeline, which delivers drinking water to Virginia Beach.
Mr. Brown said Virginia often would conduct environmental studies that ended at the state line, even though 16 Virginia counties and cities drain downstream into the estuary.
Without including these lands in any cleanup plan, “you’re probably wasting your time, and a lot of money,” Mr. Brown said.
But the Albemarle system has received scant attention and funding. With a staff of two and about $340,000 in federal money last year North Carolina contributed no state funds program officials again were left scrambling, Miss Kucken said.
The program took another hit in recent weeks when its longtime director, Guy Stefanksi, left for another state job after nine years of building coalitions and hunting for grant dollars.
“You need commitment from on high to move something this big,” Mr. Stefanksi said. “Maybe with Virginia on board, we’re poised to make a move like that.”