The Price of Protection: Who should pay to clean Jordan Lake?

Posted June 19, 2013
Updated June 20, 2013

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— Jordan Lake, a sprawling, 46,000-acre manmade lake in Chatham and Durham counties, serves as both a water supply for about 300,000 people and a recreational area for more than a million residents around the Triangle and state.

From the beginning, the lake has struggled with pollution and water quality problems, but lawmakers continue to debate about who should pay to clean the lake.

To address the longstanding problem, the General Assembly passed the “Jordan Lake Rules” in 2009 to cut pollution and runoff flowing into the lake from upstream sources by 35 percent. Last month, the state Senate passed a bill that repeals the rules for everyone in the Jordan Lake watershed.

The watershed stretches from the southern part of the lake in Chatham County to the northwest, past cities such as Greensboro and Burlington.

Under existing rules, cities and builders must play by the same rules, no matter how close or far away they are to the lake. The legislation on the table would scrap the environmental protection plan and start work on a new one, but some say that's a reckless approach.

Those who want to keep the existing rules in place argue it's not just about recreational activities on and around the lake; it’s about the drinking water.

“(The lake) has major pollution,” said Jean Campbell, who has a houseboat docked at Jordan Lake’s marina. “If it’s going to get worse in the future, I have major concerns about that.”

A spokesman with the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources agrees and says the agency does not support the change to the bill. But that's not deterring some lawmakers.

“The problem is, we do not have convincing evidence that says mitigation of the lake upstream is going to have a material effect on the quality of the water at Jordan Lake,” said Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, who co-authored the new legislation. The Price of Protection Who should pay to clean Jordan Lake?

Gunn says Alamance County is one of the upstream communities paying a hefty price to protect the lake under the current rules.

“My city right now is finishing a $23 million point-source water discharge system. Greensboro is looking at over $100 million to do the same thing,” he said.

Gunn says the biggest cost to his area is the impact to economic development and job growth.

“The rules literally put all those areas on a non-competitive playing field with the other areas in our state. It is crippling the economic development, and we just don’t think it’s right,” he said.

The fight appears to be as much of a regional one as a partisan one. One of two Democrats who support Gunn's bill represents an area in the Jordan Lake watershed. Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, is often outspoken.

“It does nothing across the board for our teachers,” she said.

Despite voting to repeal the rules in its entirety, she had no comment on the Jordan Lake issue. On the flip side, only three Republicans, all of whom represent Wake County, voted against it.

“I thought the environment concerns overrode that necessity to create more jobs in Rick Gunn’s, Sen. Rick Gunn’s area,” said Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake. “As a developer, I’ve always been of the opinion that you should have a social conscience.”

Hunt says he understands his colleague’s position but calls it shortsighted. The big concern, he says, is scrapping existing rules with no new plan in place. Gunn says it's necessary to start from scratch.

“If we leave things in place and try to do a study, the default is always to go back to what is on the books,” Gunn said. 


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Jun 27, 2013

    The polluters should pay.

    "Who should pay to clean up the pollution?" Isn't this a dumb question? (shakes head)

  • mrman2a Jun 21, 2013


  • WRAL_USER Jun 21, 2013

    @ Cz

    I do not share your assessment of the "system" and really feel that any vote for the GOP this last go around has lead up to this kind of thing. It is no surprise that the GOP legislature and Gov would be ready to help out their corporate moneybags at the people's (and environment's) expense. The politicians did not lie, anyone who voted GOP just did not pay attention as to what was about to happen and discounted continued warnings from, well, everyone else.

    We drink from this lake for God's sake!!! Thanks GOP...

  • caryzoo Jun 21, 2013

    Yeah, we did vote for a better system. More fair, just and safe. I am not sure if the voters messed up or the elected officials lied to us. I am so darn sad to see so much bad stuff going on here.If it is our fault, how could we have stopped it? I never voted for the stuff they are doing! Just very sad for this state.

  • WRAL_USER Jun 21, 2013

    @ Caryzoo
    " I am hopeful there is someone out there to stop them."

    Unfortunately, this was our (the people of NC) job and we failed...

  • caryzoo Jun 21, 2013

    How many years do we have before we vote these folks out?

  • caryzoo Jun 21, 2013

    My personal opinion is that the legislators who decided to "relieve restrictions" are responsible, they should be sued personally. Our elected officials cannot arbitrarily pass laws based on their contributory and voting base. Let's face it...they do not care about the PEOPLE. They only care about making good on promises to builders, corporations...etc. Our current group of elected officials are woefully inadequate, in regards to knowledge of environmental issues and impacts in the future, to make these decisions. I am hopeful there is someone out there to stop them.

  • WRAL_USER Jun 21, 2013

    Sen. Gunn, most evidence suggests that if you have laws that stop people from polluting the water that flows to the lake (water shed) there will be less pollution in the lake... how is that not convincing? Oh yea, you really don't care about it, you just want to keep your big business cronies happy so they can funnel the "corporations are people" money to your election campaign...

  • Insane in the left lane Jun 21, 2013

    “The problem is, we do not have convincing evidence that says mitigation of the lake upstream is going to have a material effect on the quality of the water at Jordan Lake,” said Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, who co-authored the new legislation.

    Really? You've got to be kiddin'.

  • bernireed Jun 21, 2013

    I went to Jordan Lake for a gathering I was invited to. About 50 smokers were present and I was the only one NOT throwing my cigerette in the water. there were people urinating in the water, dumping beer in the water, etc. I was disgusted by the complete disregard!!! I have yet to have any further desire to go to the lake. it isnt just the runoff, its the PEOPLE.