Raleigh, N.C. — Gov. Pat McCrory and other top state officials Tuesday morning signed off on a plan to deploy floating mixers in Jordan Lake as part of an effort to keep pollution at bay.
The Council of State, made up of the governor and nine other officials elected statewide, voted to ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for permission to put the mixer system in the lake.
"This is a two-year experiment," said Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources John Skvarla.
The plan, sketched out in last year's state budget, is part of a long-running controversy over the lake, which serves as both a recreation area and water supply for the Triangle area.
Jordan Lake 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. Those to nutrients are not harmful by themselves, but they feed algae blooms, which can kill fish, complicate water purification and make swimming less than pleasant.
The federal government has ordered the state to clean up the lake, and for much of the past decade, the state has been developing rules that would limit nutrient runoff into the lake. But communities upstream have complained that restrictions on land development and measures such as retrofitting sewer plants to the standards known as the Jordan Lake Rules were too costly.
Skvarla told the Council of State that the rules would end up costing $1.5 billion to $2 billion between the state and local governments and private landowners.
In 2013, the General Assembly voted to delay implementation of many of those rules. Instead, the state will use mixers to stir the water in Jordan Lake. The idea is that, if the nitrogen and phosphorous don't settle in stagnant water, the two elements won't have a chance to feed algae.
Environmental groups have questioned whether the system actually works, pointing to reports showing a similar operation in North Carolina has not had the desired impact.
"This process does not reduce pollution from the water?" Attorney General Roy Cooper asked.
Division of Water Quality Director Tom Reeder told Cooper that the state does not consider nitrogen and phosphorous to be pollutants.
"Algae is the pollutant," Reeder said.
Asked about the timeline for the project, Skvarla said the state wants to deploy it this summer. Had the council rejected the plan, both Skvarla and McCrory observed, lawmakers would have likely intervened in the matter, but it would have delayed the test for one year.
The vote was not unanimous in favor the project, although the council did not take a formal roll call.