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Climate change may be increasing fecal bacteria at NC beaches

Researchers say rising sea levels and higher tides caused by climate change are overloading stormwater systems that can spill sewage into swimming waters.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — North Carolina’s beaches could be brimming with bacteria due to aging infrastructure. Researchers at the Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City said they are seeing more fecal matter indicator bacteria in ocean water.

In Beaufort, nearly every high tide sends saltwater into the area’s storm drains. The saltwater can overwhelm the system, especially after rain events. Other coastal towns are also seeing problems with stormwater and sewage drain systems filling with and being corroded by saltwater. This only worsens during rain events, sending contaminated water flowing back into the sea.

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University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill professor and microbiologist Rachel Noble said the E. coli and fecal indicator bacteria levels are among the highest she’s ever seen in some North Carolina coastal communities.

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