Raleigh, N.C. — Environmentalists, local officials and a Durham businessman urged lawmakers Wednesday to bring back the so-called Jordan Lake Rules to control pollution in the lake.
But Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, told them no legislation is planned when the General Assembly reconvenes in late May.
Jordan Lake, which provides drinking water to about 300,000 people in the Triangle, has had pollution problems since construction finished in the 1970s. Runoff from farms, homes and businesses upstream in the Triad area has dumped tons of nitrogen and phosphorous into the lake.
The federal government has ordered the state to clean up the lake, and for much of the past decade, the state developed rules that would limit nutrient runoff into the lake. But communities upstream complained that restrictions on land development and measures such as retrofitting sewer plants to meet the Jordan Lake Rules standards are too costly.
The General Assembly voted last year to delay implementation of many of the rules while testing equipment that some lawmakers say would be a cheaper alternative to cleaning the lake. Thirty-six solar-powered SolarBee aerators will be deployed in two arms of the lake over the next two years to stir the waters, with the goal of preventing nitrogen and phosphorus from settling in stagnant water and feeding algae growth.
Environmental groups have questioned whether the SolarBee system actually works, citing experiments in smaller lakes where the aerators didn't have the desired impact, and environmental advocates and others told members of a legislative research committee that conducting the experiment shouldn't be grounds for suspending other pollution controls.
"I encourage you to stop the cycle of delays and experiments and instead do the one thing that has proven results: reduce pollution upstream," said Brooks Rainey Pearson, a lawyer with the Southern Environmental Law Center. "Now is not the time for experimentation. It's the time for action."
Pearson said halting efforts to cut pollution upstream could put the state into conflict with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in its enforcement of the Clean Water Act.
Morrisville Town Councilman Steve Rao said officials spent several years researching and developing the Jordan Lake Rules, and Morrisville and other municipalities have already put some systems in place to decrease pollution.
"Exploring technology solutions is ignoring the solution at hand," Rao said. "We simply cannot afford to wait any longer."
Karen Rindge, executive director of WakeUP Wake County, said Cary and Apex officials also have invested in pollution controls and shouldn't be asked to stop work for the SolarBee experiment, which she called a "waste of taxpayer money."
"This delay is not fair to the 300,000 citizens who rely on Jordan Lake for their water, who pay their taxes and are counting on state leaders to take action," Rindge said.
Marlene Sanford, president of the Triad Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, said delaying compliance deadlines doesn't mean communities have to suspend their pollution control efforts, arguing that environmentalists are making the situation out to be more dire than it actually is.
"There's an awful lot going on with these rules. It's not like they've been thrown out the window," Sanford said.
Triad-area businesses need the delay to rebuild after the recession without the added cost of trying to limit their pollution, she said, adding that there's enough evidence that "we're not going to fix the problem anyway" because Jordan Lake is perpetually polluted.
Gunn said cleaning Jordan Lake is "a decades-long event," and efforts both upstream and downstream must be considered.
"They're asking us to do some things that are very very costly upstream, and we do not have any assurances based on knowledge that we have that we'll have any positive material impact on the quality of the lake," he said.
"It would be wonderful if, when God put this Earth together, he had given us rivers for clean drinking water and other rivers to dispose of our waste, but unfortunately, he didn't give us that option," said Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford. "We're dealing with a problem that's caused by us living on this planet, and as we can all see, it's not an easy one to solve."