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June 26, 2014

The climate and our health: Rural North Carolina

This is the final installment on how climate change could affect North Carolina, and it focuses on the rural areas of our state.

Our last installment in this series is a look at how climate change could affect the rural population of North Carolina. Many of the issues we’ve previously covered such as drought and heat-related health concerns apply to everyone across the state. The one potential problem that is somewhat more troublesome to the rural areas is water quality.

According to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, our state’s agricultural industry is one of the most diversified in the nation with crops ranging from Christmas trees to fisheries and turkeys to tobacco. Many of the farm products either require chemicals such as pesticides and fertilizer for growth or they produce waste which can cause issues if they enter into water system in large amounts.

Climate change comes into play in this situation if we see the projected scenario of extended drought with fewer light, steady rain events and more, heavy, torrential downpour events. A light rain has time to soak into the plants and the ground without causing major runoff problems. Heavy rainfall tends to runoff quickly and to carry any pollutants on the surface with it. That mixture eventually makes its way into streams, rivers, and aquifers, potentially affecting the drinking water downstream. Poor quality drinking water can lead to gastrointestinal illness among things.

If the recent projections of how the climate might look in future decades play out, everyone in our state could be affected in some way. There are a great many potential problems to consider, and they are worth considering now while the decision makers have time to weigh all aspects of the situation.

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