Jordan Lake pollution gets another experimental treatment in House budget

Posted June 2

— A year after state environmental regulators called the SolarBees experiment a failure, state lawmakers are trying another unproven method to control pollution in Jordan Lake.

The $22.9 billion budget that the House approved early Friday includes a $1.3 million provision requiring the Department of Environmental Quality to use chemicals that either kill algae or bind with phosphorus, which algae feeds on. The technique is usually used in ponds and small lakes, not in a body of water as large as Jordan Lake.

"We’ve found a company here in North Carolina called SePRO that actually has done this in a few smaller lakes and is interested in doing a trial on it," Rep. Larry Yarborough, R-Person, said during a Thursday night budget debate while defending the provision.

SePRO, which has a research and development unit in the Nash County town of Whitakers, has a very powerful lobbyist in Harold Brubaker, a former Republican House speaker.

In a Dec. 6 email, John Evans, who at the time was chief deputy secretary of DEQ, told colleagues that Brubaker said lawmakers "would take funds" from the agency if it didn't sign a contract with SePRO.

Last year's budget gave DEQ the option of trying a chemical solution for Jordan Lake's intractable pollution problems, but scientists were skeptical of the potential.

"I told him [Brubaker] DEQ would do exactly what we said we would do, and that is let our technical folks evaluate, and if there is merit, we would enter contract with caveat pending Corps approval," Evans wrote in the email. "We have to let science drive these decisions."

The Army Corps of Engineers oversees Jordan Lake and its dam and would have to sign off on any treatment put into the lake.

Brubaker said in an email to WRAL News that Evans' "recollection of the conversation is a misrepresentation."

Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, tried to remove the $1.3 million provision from the House budget and reinstate the so-called Jordan Lake Rules, which were adopted in 2008 but were put on hold four years ago. Under the rules, upstream communities were required to control nutrient runoff into the lake's tributaries, but some businesses and lawmakers complained about the expense.

"The only way we’re going to clean up Jordan lake and Falls Lake is to prevent the upstream pollution. That’s the only way, and we continue to delay those rules that would effectuate that," Harrison said.

She criticized the chemical proposal as potentially toxic, saying the algaecide and the phosphorus-locking treatments "have public health and environmental risks."

Jordan Lake is a source of drinking water for more than 300,000 people in central North Carolina.

"You all will remember we spent $1.65 million on the failed SolarBee project. I believe this is looking at another waste of taxpayer money and also might further harm the lake," Harrison said.

SolarBees were solar-powered water mixers designed to prevent algae growth by continually churning the water in the lake. DEQ removed them last year after a two-year experiment found them to be ineffective.

Yarborough called the Jordan Lake Rules "draconian" and said SePRO should be given a chance to see if its chemicals, which are approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use in drinking water sources, work.

"I’m pretty excited about this technology, and I appreciate the support of this body in doing what we can to use what’s available to clean up these lakes as well as solve the immense burden on the communities that are suffering from these rules," he said.

The House and the Senate must still negotiate a compromise budget, so the provision might not make it into the final 2017-18 spending plan.

DEQ spokesman Jamie Kritzer said the agency is ready to move forward with a trial of the chemicals.

"We consider any steps to protect, restore and improve water quality in North Carolina to be a top priority," Kritzer said in an email to WRAL News.


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  • Samuel Mason Jun 5, 2:00 p.m.
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    Does anyone know what diseases are factually linked to cyanotoxins? Cyanobacteria is what you have in the lake and those are the risks you are facing whenever you consume water from this source, or go swimming, etc. I agree that there should be debate on whether or not to spend money on something before you go out and do it. That makes sense. Politicizing this issue and using language like "pouring chemicals" into the water in your headline does not promote an intelligent discussion. It shows bias, and charges people to react one way or another without any factual basis. You have chemicals already in the water, chemicals called cyanotoxins that are deadly, and can cause lasting negative effects to human/animal life. The products proposed for use would be used at concentrations deemed safe by your EPA, and guess what? They would actually fix the problem. It's true that this scale hasn't been tried before, but we are North Carolinians. We are leaders in our nation for a reason.

  • Jeff Freuler Jun 5, 11:33 a.m.
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    Since the SolarBee project didn't work then that company should have to return all monies given to them by the state

  • Anna Temple Jun 5, 7:18 a.m.
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    I am hearing and people are saying that if this does not work the legislature are going to resort to wishing it away

  • Anna Temple Jun 3, 7:31 p.m.
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    Like running around your house looking for you glasses while they are pushed up on your forehead. Politicians are good at being elected and photographed

  • Clarence Hill Jun 3, 6:42 p.m.
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    It's been years since I stopped on the Haw River bridge in Swepsonville to watch the tinted waters go by; one day pink and another day purple--possible resulting from the dumping of scouring waste water from those spinning mills in Burlington. Has that pollution been cleaned up? If not, it's a good place to start looking for the original place of the pollutants.

  • Betsey Duggins Jun 3, 5:04 p.m.
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    May the Army Corps of Engineers say heck no! No more dismissing the environmental mandate set forth. Many municipalities have done their part, so the others should be held accountable by DEQ! Why can the State not enforce the law, get on with enforcement laws and grow a pair? It is never good to add chemicals to counteract being bad stewards of our environment.

  • Henry Cooper Jun 3, 3:17 p.m.
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    View quoted thread

    The Dems can carry some of this also. They forgot about working middle class in the election and it cost them. Hillary didn't get the union vote... First time in how long a Dem did not carry that?

    I don't care which side you are on but thinking all of our problems are caused by the other party and the party I support is always moral and correct is part of the problem not part of the solution.

    ...and the machines rolls on

  • Dolly Butler Jun 3, 3:00 p.m.
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    Here we go again. Our foolish Republican lawmakers ....guess they never had Science classes in school ...or maybe didn't go to school. All that wasted money could go for Teachers' salaries that North Carolina wouldn't be compared to Mississippi.

  • Jim Frei Jun 3, 9:46 a.m.
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    Republicans - Stop using Jordan Lake as a petri dish for your lame-brain experiments.

    All of the case studies on SePro's website are for shallow ponds, none were drinking water sources, less than 30 acres and most are in the +/- 10 ac size. No case studies on a lake as large as Jordan (14,000 ac) are listed, and none present long-term benefits. One study applied 8 tons to a 10 ac lake - that equals 11,200 tons of PhosLok on Jordan Lake...and the application would have to be repeated indefinitely since the upstream sources are not being reduced.

    The average P reduction was 50%. Is that enough to stop eutrophication without source controls? If you live in Cary or Apex would you want 11,200 tons of a chemical dumped in your water supply on a regular basis?

  • New Holland Jun 3, 7:42 a.m.
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    Yea let's throw more money and time at this problem and see if it goes away. The state has already wasted 5 years with experiments in Jordan Lake. There must be some powerful people pushing this garbage .