The changes are an effort to strengthen a lax pollution-prevention program and keep waters open to shellfishing and swimming, according to the News & Observer.
Existing regulations allow subdivisions and businesses to be built so densely in coastal areas that they overwhelm the land's capacity to filter oil, mud, fertilizer and chemicals washed during heavy rains from roofs, roads and yards. As a result, the acreage of coastal waters closed to shellfishing has increased about 13 percent in the past two decades, state data show.
"It's become more and more apparent coastal stormwater is the biggest contributor to the degradation of water quality, and our rules have been inadequate," said Ernest Larkin, a member of the Environmental Management Commission.
The rule changes for the 20 coastal counties call for new developments to build wider buffers along waterways. The current requirement is 30 feet, and that is increased to 50 feet for new development. Buffers such as grass, shrubs and other vegetation slow runoff. The new rules also require more projects to go through a review process and builders to install well-designed stormwater controls.
"It's a major step forward to protecting coastal waters," said Jim Stephenson, a representative of the N.C. Coastal Federation, an environmental group that has pushed for the changes.
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