A N.C. House committee narrowly voted Thursday to delay a costly environmental cleanup of Jordan Lake in a classic regional water war pitting development interests against environmental concerns.
The House Environment Committee voted 12-9 to delay the lake cleanup by three years. Spooked by the potential $2 billion cleanup bill, lawmakers are considering a cheaper alternative: technology that will stir the lakes water and prevent algae from forming.
Jordan Lake is a drinking water supply for more than 300,000 residents in Cary, Morrisville and Apex. But most of the nutrient runoff that fertilizes the algae blooms comes from cities north and west: Durham, Chapel Hill, Burlington and Greensboro.
The effort to find an alternative to reducing pollution is being led by Sen. Rick Gunn, a commercial real-estate executive from Burlington. Gunns Senate Bill 515 includes a 2-year test of technologies that circulate and aerate water to keep it from stagnating.
Were committed and we need to be committed to fixing this lake, Gunn told the House committee members before the vote.
The House version of the bill represents a compromise between Gunns original Senate bill to end the cleanup. State environmental regulators who oversee water quality had opposed Gunns original bill but support the compromise, since the dammed-up 20-year-old lake has long been prone to water quality issues.
I dont get why people are so upset about suspending the rules for a couple of years, said Tom Reeder, director of the N.C. Division of Water Resources. Its been impaired since the early 1980s, when we put the dam in place.
Those who oppose Gunns approach say that the only way to prevent algae blooms in Jordan Lake is to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff that enters the lake from upstream waterways. The runoff comes from development, farms and water treatment plants.
Itll just get passed downstream, said Peter Raabe, N.C. conservation director for American Rivers, a Washington DC advocacy organization. Itll flow into the ocean.
Jordan Lake was placed on the federal governments impaired waters list in 2002. After years of meetings and discussions, a lake cleanup plan was signed by Gov. Bev Perdue in 2009. The state legislature passed delays in 2011 and 2012 and then finally considered repealing the cleanup rules this year.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wrote to Rep. Rick Glazier, a Democrat from Fayetteville, that bypassing pollution reductions is generally inconsistent with the Clean Water Act because such a strategy could increase the lakes total maximum daily allowance of pollutants.
The EPA letter, from A. Stanley Meiburg, the agencys acting regional manager in Atlanta, said delaying the lakes cleanup could make it necessary for the EPA to get involved and tighten runoff limits.