House gives tentative approval to Jordan Lake cleanup delay
Posted July 24, 2013
Updated July 25, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — Some of the regulations recently put in place to clean up Jordan Lake would be delayed for three years under a bill the state House gave tentative approval to Wednesday night.
Jordan Lake has been "impaired" by pollution, much of it extra nutrients feeding algae, since it was constructed by the federal government.
The so-called Jordan Lakes Rules, which are designed to fix those problems, have been the subject of debate for more than a decade. Jordan Lake provides drinking water and recreation in the Triangle, but much of the cost of cleaning up the lake will be incurred by communities in Triad region, where streams that feed the lake originate.
Already, communities in Alamance, Guilford and Rockingham counties have paid for costs such as upgrading sewage treatment plants. But rules that would require other measures and potentially limit development in the lake's watershed have not gone into effect yet. Those provisions would be delayed until 2016 if Senate Bill 515 becomes law.
While that delays the lake's cleanup, the bill is less sweeping than a measure that originally passed the Senate. Senators sought a measure that would have wiped out the Jordan Lake Rules and created a committee to redraw them.
Still, the measure drew objection from lawmakers who said the rules should not be altered.
"We have an impaired drinking water source that's very important for 300,000 North Carolinians that will continue to be impaired," said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford.
Those pushing the bill say that the rules will hurt economic development in the communities that have to implement them, with little promise of environmental return on that investment.
"There is no evidence at all that spending that kind of money is going to do one ounce of cleanup in the lake," said Rep. Rick Catlin, R-New Hanover.
Earlier in the day, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, a former chairman of North Carolina's Sierra Club and the group's former national president, blasted his colleagues for setting aside $1.3 million in the state budget for a specific company's unproven lake cleanup technology. During debate over the rules themselves, McGrady observed that lawmakers seemed quick to take the word of engineers or businessmen.
"But we don't always want to pay attention to the scientists," he said.
Science, he said, shows that, by delaying the rules, North Carolina will simply be giving pollution three additional years to build up in the lake.
But Rep. Pat McElraft , R-Carteret, countered that it wasn't development that posed the greatest risk to the lake. Rather, she said, buffer rules were creating natural areas that were attracting "critters" like raccoons and birds to roost – and defecate – near the waters.
"Some of the pollution is caused by these critters," she said. "The buffers are enticing the birds."
The House voted 66-44 in favor of the rules delay. The chamber is scheduled to take a final vote Thursday. The measure would then return to the Senate for consideration.