In the wake of the devastating flooding caused by Hurricane Florence in eastern North Carolina in September, the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory has provided $125,000 in funding for a multi-faceted project focused on water sampling but also including utilization of a drone for three-dimensional mapping of flooded areas.

“It was important to act quickly in response to these kind of flooding events so that our research can shed light on risks associated with flood waters, can inform new strategies for dealing with flooding events in the future, and can potentially help prevent future contaminations,” said Brad Ives, director of the Collaboratory. “We are pleased at the rapid response of this group of researchers who launched projects at the peak of the flooding within a week of Florence making landfall.”

More than half of the research grants support post-Hurricane Florence water sampling projects by the following labs:

  • Duke University – Lee Ferguson, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Heather Stapleton, Dan and Bunny Gabel Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Environmental Management, in coordination with the NC Rivers Keeper Alliance and the Environmental Defense Fund, collected water samples and test for the types, sources and levels of emerging pollutants, such as pesticides and other industrial chemicals that could have been released through spills and other inadvertent release due to flooding of industrial sites. Ferguson received a grant of $15,000 for this work.
  • N.C. State University — Detlef Knappe, professor of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, in a team effort with NC River Keepers Alliance, utilities and affected residents, is collecting water samples to conduct water quality testing for a set of chemicals classified as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) that include GenX, a potentially toxic industrial compound that has previously been detected in the Cape Fear River. This research is in addition to a current Collaboratory PFAS project underway that was funded by a $5 million appropriation from the N.C. General Assembly. Knappe received a grant of $15,000 for this work.
  • UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State University — Angela Harris, assistant professor in N.C. State University’s Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering, and Jill Stewart, associate professor of environmental studies and engineering in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, are collecting water samples to shed light on the extent of microbial contamination in flooded areas, and provide insight into which sources are significant contributors to the contamination, be it human or swine or poultry from the dense concentrations of farms in the area. Harris and Stewart each received a grant of $10,000 for this work.
  • UNC-Chapel Hill — Rachel Noble, Mary and Watts Hill Jr. Distinguished Professor at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, will research Hurricane Florence contamination of estuarine and coastal systems. Using samples collected from Stewart’s lab, the research will quantify the bacterial pathogens in the water. Researchers will also look at pathogens in shellfish from local harvesting waters to determine when it is safe to re-open shellfish harvesting grounds. Noble received a grant of $25,000 for this work, which matches a separate award from UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Carol Folt.

The North Carolina rivers targeted for sampling include Trent, Haw, Newport, Neuse, Cape Fear, Catawba and Lumber and their tributaries.

The Collaboratory will also provide $50,000 in funding for a project managed by Leila Hashemi Beni, assistant professor in geomatics at North Carolina A&T State University, in cooperation with the Department of Emergency Management, to utilize a drone to calculate the extent and depth of flooding and identify more resilient land for relocation of municipal, commercial and residential structures in Lumberton and Fair Bluff.

The Collaboratory funded the Florence flooding research from its rapid response research reserve fund, according to Ives. “This budget was set aside specifically for timely, quick-response research opportunities such as this,” said Ives. “In fact, researchers were able to start sample acquisition the week following landfall as the rivers crested.”

Over the last two years the Collaboratory has provided nearly $700,000 to research and engagement projects in response to Hurricane Matthew, which was another recent flooding event that affected the east coast of North Carolina in October 2016. Collaboratory funding has supported community engagement and planning projects in the hard-hit N.C. towns of Lumberton, Kinston, Princeville, Windsor, Fair Bluff and Seven Springs.

About the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory

The Collaboratory was established in the summer of 2016 by the North Carolina General Assembly for the purposes of facilitating the dissemination of the policy and research expertise of the University of North Carolina for practical use by state and local government. The Collaboratory facilitates and funds research related to the environmental and economic components of the management of the natural resources within North Carolina and of new technologies for habitat, environmental and water quality improvement. To date the Collaboratory has brought in more than $10 million in research dollars to the UNC System. More information about the Collaboratory can be found at: https://collaboratory.unc.edu/.

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