Editorial: Jammed rivers need attention; Florence didn’t have to be so bad

Before the next bad rain storm strikes North Carolina, regulators of our state’s beautiful wetlands must act cohesively.

That’s a tangled web and a mighty big ask. We need leadership for this, and we needed it done a long time ago.

We’ll never know how Hurricane Florence and its aftermath would have been different. But seeing images of floating debris clogging routes for the water to return to the Atlantic Ocean is astonishing.

It happened in large areas, such as the Cape Fear River at Elizabethtown under the U.S. 701 bridge. And it happened in smaller areas, such as the South River at the Sampson-Bladen county line. Throughout the region, water was slow to move.

Forecasts from a place that knows a thing or two about it, the National Weather Service, projected rivers to crest days ahead of when they actually did. Given what we’ve seen, part of the equation lies with the jammed waterways and the condition of swamps, streams and tributaries not only here but throughout the Lumber, Cape Fear, Neuse and Tar-Pamlico basins.

It’s time for those in charge to step to the plate and get the job done. Regulatory hurdles, and there are many, need to be relaxed so this effort can be done quickly.

Save us the sad refrains about the lack of money, or the harm to the environment by touching something. Those well-intended reasons are not good enough.

A man who lives near an entry point for a river is frustrated when his boat can only go a few hundred yards in either direction. He’d willingly help clear the mess, only he’ll run afoul of regulations.

When the storm comes, he’s left to watch his chicken farm go under. We’ll never know if it would have been different, but we know what happened this time.

Let’s not have it happen that way again.

Our state and federal representatives have gotten a number of “atta boys” for reaching out in our time of need. That’s all fine and dandy now, but we needed more before this storm and we need more after the cleanup when it comes to allowing water to flow freely back to the ocean.

We love the wetlands, and we want them protected, make no mistake on that point.

But sometimes, there arises a need to relax some regulations in order for efficiency and nature’s intent to be optimal. The jammed waterways should not have been this severe.

Our state and federal leaders should get the resources, and make sure the job is done.

We need our wetlands to function as intended. And we need our people and their livelihoods, too.

Both can exist.