Pittsboro, N.C. — Before crowds descend on Jordan Lake to swim, boat and fish over the Memorial Day weekend, environment groups held a news conference Friday to express concern over legislation that would repeal water-quality rules for the lake.
Environment North Carolina, the Sierra Club, the Haw River Assembly and local businesspeople said they are puzzled by the Senate's passage last week of a bill that would scrap the Jordan Lake Rules, which were adopted in 2009 to cut pollution and runoff flowing into the lake from upstream sources by 35 percent. The lake is a drinking water source for about 300,000 people in the Triangle.
Republican sponsors say the rules aren't working, so the state should start over with new environmental regulations.
"To really do this right, we need to clean the slate and come back with new technology, new proposals," said Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance.
Gunn said the rules have hindered economic development in his hometown of Burlington and other cities where they apply.
"We cannot take the same piece of property in the counties that are part of Jordan Lake and put the same amount of improvements on there," he said.
Chatham County Commissioner Sally Kost said the legislation is "definitely about development. It's about money." She argues that the rules haven't been allowed to take effect yet and need to remain in place.
"If North Carolina is serious about protecting our water quality, they need to show Chatham County and the people who drink this water and play in it that they're serious," Kost said, noting that clean water in Jordan Lake produces tourism dollars and jobs for the area.
"Let's not start over. Time is of the essence here. The lake is not cleaning up itself. It's only getting worse," she said.
Jordan Lake has always had problems with pollution because it's fed by urban streams and small tributaries that pick up a lot of fertilizer, sediment and toxins. The pollution has caused algae blooms and fish kills and has forced the closure of some of the lake's beaches in recent years.
“The Senate’s vote to repeal the Jordan Lake Rules is a slap in the face to all of us who care about the quality of the lake’s water for people who drink it, fish, swim and play in it," Elaine Chiosso, Haw Riverkeeper, said in a statement. "Dirty water gets to the lake from dirty creeks, and all the major streams running through our cities, including Greensboro, Burlington and Durham, are on the same federal impaired waters list as Jordan Lake."
The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources doesn't support the repeal of the rules, saying that could violate federal clean water standards and lead to even stricter regulations.
Environmental advocates said they hope to stop the bill in the House.
"I hope that our friends in the General Assembly take this to heart: Please leave Jordan Lake better than when you found it. Do not pass Senate Bill 515," Morrisville Town Councilman Mark Stohlman said. "Not only is it a recreational facility for the citizens of Morrisville, but it's also the drinking water for Apex, Cary and the (Research Triangle Park)."