Legislative committee delays Jordan Lake clean up

jmurawski@newsobserver.comJuly 11, 2013 

  • Jordan Lake timeline

    1945 − A severe hurricane and several days of heavy rain sends the Cape Fear River to its highest levels on record while swamping Moncure, Fayetteville and Elizabethtown.

    1946 − Congress directs the Army Corps of Engineers to undertake a flood-control study.

    1963 − Congress authorizes construction of a “New Hope Reservoir.”

    1967 − Early construction begins on the lake, sparking protest from upstream cities, landowners and environmental groups.

    1971 − The Conservation Council of N.C. files a water-quality lawsuit to stop creation of the lake.

    1973 − Congress renames the proposed reservoir the B. Everett Jordan Dam and Lake, in honor of the former U.S. senator from North Carolina.

    1976 − The Army’s final notice of the creation of the lake prompts more legal challenges from the Conservation Council of North Carolina, resulting in a court trial and a victory for the lake’s supporters in 1977. An appeal is denied in 1979.

    1981 − Impoundment, or damming, of the lake begins. The waters run mostly on Chatham County’s eastern flank, its northern tip touching Durham’s southern border.

    1982 − The lake fills to its normal capacity. The N.C. Environmental Management Commission soon designates it a “nutrient-sensitive water” and imposes phosphorus discharge limits on upstream cities.

    2002 − Parts of Jordan Lake are placed on the federal government’s “impaired waters list.” The rest of the lake would follow in 2006.

    2003 − Dozens of municipal and county governments in the watershed meet over 18 months to discuss environmental strategies for the lake.

    2005-2007 − The state drafts and publishes a detailed set of rules governing discharge into the lake. These will be known as the Jordan Lake Rules.

    2009 − The Jordan Lake Rules are signed into effect by Gov. Bev Perdue over the summer.

    2011 − The legislature enacts a two-year delay of rules governing nitrogen discharge.

    2012 − The legislature approves delays for runoff-management rules for new development.

    2013 − The legislature considers a bill that would repeal the rules fully.

    Sources: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

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 lake’s 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. Gunn’s Senate Bill 515 includes a 2-year test of technologies that circulate and aerate water to keep it from stagnating.

“We’re 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 Gunn’s original Senate bill to end the cleanup. State environmental regulators who oversee water quality had opposed Gunn’s original bill but support the compromise, since the dammed-up 20-year-old lake has long been prone to water quality issues.

“I don’t 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. “It’s been impaired since the early 1980s, when we put the dam in place.”

Those who oppose Gunn’s 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.

“It’ll just get passed downstream,” said Peter Raabe, N.C. conservation director for American Rivers, a Washington DC advocacy organization. “It’ll flow into the ocean.”

Jordan Lake was placed on the federal government’s 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 lake’s total maximum daily allowance of pollutants.

The EPA letter, from A. Stanley Meiburg, the agency’s acting regional manager in Atlanta, said delaying the lake’s cleanup could make it necessary for the EPA to get involved and tighten runoff limits.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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