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Aquatic plant growth raises questions about the health of the Trent River

By George Olsen


Concerns over the health of the Trent River

New Bern, NC – INTRO - Officials with the Neuse River Foundation are expressing concerns about unusually high aquatic plant growth on the Trent River. George Olsen has more.

Sightings of the coon tail plant on eastern North Carolina rivers normally is not anything unusual it is indigenous to the region but the numbers people are starting to see on the Trent River is starting to raise concerns with a mind to the river's history.

00:48 The reason that it raises such a concern was an experience back in 1993 when pretty much entire sections of the Trent River were covered with this coon tail plant and it made boat traffic pretty much non-existent because what was happening was there was so much stuff on the water that if you put your boat in the water, you would pretty quickly clog up the prop. They had people who overheated and damaged their engines because of being clogged up.

Larry Baldwin is the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper with the Neuse River Foundation. Baldwin says what they're seeing now is a pretty alarming growth rate and while it's not to 1993 proportions yet, he anticipates it causing problems soon if it's not causing problems already.

09:30 Wilson Creek which we were on Monday, the center channel is open but there are little coves and bays that are completely clogged. There are people on Wilson Creek that are going to have problems getting their boats on the water. They have them on the lifts out of the water but if they put them on the water they'll have this plant wrapped around their props pretty quickly. Haywood Creek, it's not all the way to the mouth of the creek but I'd say about half-a-mile upstream, then again pretty much the entire surface of that creek is closed over. There are several other small creeks and tributaries you couldn't even begin to get up into them with a powerboat because of the amount of coontail.

While the increased growth rate of coon tail is an obvious concern to boaters, it's also a concern for the fish that inhabit the river.

00:48 and the problem we have, the concern it raises, is this plant is very dependent on inorganic nitrogen for its survival, so an increase in the population of the plant indicates there is some increase in nitrogen in the water as well.

That's a concern because increased algal growth also occurs with excess nitrogen, and that algae as well as coon tail eventually dies, sinking to the bottom to decompose, a process that depletes dissolved oxygen which in turn can lead to fish kills. The Trent River has the largest concentration of hog farms of any tributary of the Neuse River watershed, according to Baldwin a possible source for excess nutrients that can spur algal growth. Last week's announcement of a fish kill of at least 500,000 fish in the Neuse River the Neuse River Foundation estimated 750,000 isn't tied to the increase in the growth rate of coon tail, but that and what Baldwin refers to as significant algae growth in the river has Neuse River Foundation officials eyeing conditions on the river warily.

04:55 Well, if you go back in history and look at the history of this area, as far as 300 years back, there's no indication we had fish kills of this magnitude, 750,000 fish, there were reports of smaller fish kills 1000, 1500 but never anything to this magnitude. So the issue is, yeah, it's been hot, the water temperatures are hotter than normal and that can be a factor, but it's that factor combining with the nutrient loading that we're putting in this river that's creating the conditions for these huge fish kills.

Larry Baldwin is the Lower Neuse Riverkeeper with the Neuse River Foundation. I'm George Olsen.