Is the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area environmentally friendly?

The area has a reputation of responding progressively to environmental problems.

However, there are issues, especially with solid waste and the water supply, where residents are confronted with hard choices that force them to balance the environment with harsh economics and it is unclear what will be decided.

In the long term, the Town of Chapel Hill and UNC-CH have plans in place to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and other environment-related issues, but it is unclear how effective these plans will be.

The bottom line is that the area has spent a considerable amount of time and money on conservation, but like any community must question the effectiveness of current procedures and the outcomes of tough decisions.

Is the state friendly to the local environment?

Because of cuts to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, it is unclear how well state-wide enforcement of local problems will work into the future. The department has been cut 12 percent overall and some programs have been moved to other agencies.

The new republican majority is also looking to fracking and off shore drilling to bring money to the state, both of which can have devastating environmental consequences.

County governments do partner outside the state to achieve environmental friendliness. Voters in Durham County approved a half cent sales tax – which will not take effect unless Orange and Wake counties also approve a similar measure – that will be used to fund transit improvements and a light-rail transit system.

What are the town’s goals for the environment?

The Town of Chapel Hill has specific goals for the environment. It has committed to reducing carbon emissions from town operations by 60 percent by 2050 through its carbon reduction program, employed LEED standards in new building designs, started a $500,000 bond for the creation of a program to install environmentally friendly systems in public buildings, provides fare-free transit in conjunction with UNC-Chapel Hill, and has a fund for citizens looking to increase their home’s energy efficiency.

The local school system has environmental goals as well. Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools could start composting waste in the near future and incorporates hands on environmental education into its curriculum.

What water supply issues exist for the area?

The Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA) is attempting to gain access to water from Jordan Lake.

“OWASA also has an allocation of 5 percent of Jordan Lake’s water supply storage capacity, which can yield about 5-6 million gallons per day (MGD). Jordan Lake will become increasingly important to OWASA in the event of severe drought or other emergency – especially during the next 25 years until the expanded Quarry Reservoir is online,” according to the OWASA website.

The utility is paying $12,000 a year to the state for the right to access its allocation in the future.

OWASA says that it may lose its future right to access if it does not start the process to formally demonstrate need.

But Jordan Lake is heavily polluted and full of litter. Residents have expressed concern about the health effects of drinking the water and many call for conservation before Jordan Lake is tapped.

In the last year, the utility may have had a violation of the Clean Water Act.

To see the most recent water data from OWASA, see the key performance measurement dashboard.

What landfill-related issues exist for the area?

There is debate regarding the continued use of the Eubanks Road Landfill and the health effects surrounding it. Water in the area, which residents draw using private wells, has been tested and some wells are contaminated under EPA standards. Different wells have different bacteria and chemical levels. Some but not all homes are getting hooked up to public water and sewage.

The landfill was supposed to close in 1982, but through expansion and waste diversion through recycling and composting, has remained open. The landfill is situated near Rogers Road, a historically black and low income community. Residents claim that they were promised certain public services for hosting the landfill which were not given to them, as written in a document signed by Chapel Hill Mayor Howard Lee, Carrboro Mayor J. Wells Jr. and Orange County Board of Commissioners Chairman E.D. Bennett. They also claim that the landfill is bad for their health.

What are the university’s long-term goals for the environment?

According to the Campus Sustainability Report, UNC-CH wants to achieve climate neutrality by 2050, and go back to 2000 levels of greenhouse gas output by 2020. To do this, it plans to switch from burning coal to torrefied wood, a charcoal-like substance that can be made from waste wood, or to switch to natural gas in the short term.

Buildings on campus would have to be made more efficient and certain habits would have to change.

How does the campus get electricity?

UNC-Chapel Hill campus uses a cogeneration facility that burns coal and natural gas to supply energy.

A cogeneration facility creates electricity and heat on one site to maximize efficiency. UNC-CH’s works at about double the efficiency than if two facilities were used instead of one.

The campus also wants to capture methane from the landfill to create energy.

“In 2008, the University was responsible for emitting 569,195 metric tons of carbon dioxide — the equivalent of burning 3,263 railcars of coal at a traditional power plant. The largest sources were the University’s on-site heat and power plant (more than 60 percent) and purchased electricity (more than 35 percent),” according to the UNC Sustainability Report.

The planned Carolina North campus will draw power from Duke Energy through a ductbank cut through Carolina North Forest.

What is the university doing?

UNC-CH in 2009 put into operation a reclaimed water system that will decrease the total load on OWASA by about 10 percent.

Carolina Dining Services additionally buys about 23 percent of its food locally and participates in a composting program.

This year’s summer reading book at Duke and UNC-CH, “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer, questioned the social and environmental issues of factory farming.

Green feautures are installed throughout campus, such a the solar-thermal panels on top of Morrison Residence Hall and the green roof on Ram’s Head. Morrison Residence Hall won an EPA competition in energy reduction last year.

UNC-CH get a grade of A- overall from the College Sustainability Report Card.

How extensive is the composting program?

More than 3.5 million pounds of waste was composted in 2009 by Carolina Dining Halls, UNC Hospitals, The Carolina Inn and in many local businesses, said Blair Pollock of the Orange County Solid Waste Management Department.

The project is part of the Orange County government’s commitment to reduce solid waste by 61 percent, a reduction based on a benchmark placed in 1997.

The county reached a 54 percent reduction in 2009.

What events and people are involved with the environment?

Every year, Chapel Hill hosts Earth Action Day, an event that showcases the town’s environmentally friendly practices, local green businesses, and renewable art.

Carrboro has a farmer’s market that makes buying local food easier.

Local groups, such as Friends of Bolin Creek, seek to help specific areas of the environment. Friends of Bolin Creek, for example, concentrates on runoff and water health.

Local citizens host environmental movie screenings.

Councilwoman Donna Bell listed sustainability as one of the most pressing issues facing the town, according to the Daily Tar Heel voter guide.

Both the town and university have active sustainability offices. John Richardson is the sustainability officer for the town’s sustainability office. Cindy Shea is the director for the UNC-CH sustainability office.