Wake Countys elected officials may have saved the Jordan Lake Rules, but they predict several years delay for efforts to keep polluting runoff out of the regional water supply.
To replace the pollution rules, the state may instead test whether floating machines could improve water quality in Jordan Lake, which provides drinking water to Cary, Apex and Morrisville.
Water-quality experts warn that the new technological approach cant replace regional stormwater controls. Supporters of the bill say the extra time and research could save money for upstream governments, and theyve won endorsements from state government staff.
Almost everyone agrees the revised Senate Bill 515 is looking like political reality.
A delay is much better than trashing all the rules that were in place, said Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht. Its kind of bittersweet, I guess. Well take what we can get.
This would represent the third major hold-up of the Jordan Lake Rules. While earlier delays afforded governments more time to prepare, the proposed delay is an effort to fundamentally change the program.
Currently, the Jordan Lake cleanup effort takes a widely accepted approach: Local governments fight algae by reducing its food supply the stormwater runoff that carries nutrients into lakes.
In the next few years, upstream governments would have begun installation of $1 billion-plus of stormwater ponds and other filters, along with new requirements for developments.
Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Burlington, co-sponsor of the bill, argues that there may be a cheaper way. He and other bill advocates want to test in-lake solutions.
In draft documents, legislative staff propose a $1.6 million pilot of solar-powered water circulators, which may stop the formation of quality-degrading algae.
Supporters of the change argue that the government hasnt properly explored that approach; treating and churning the lake water could be more cost-effective than installing hundreds of upstream stormwater filters and development rules, they say.
This thinking has won the support of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which opposed earlier editions but now favors Senate Bill 515.
I think that we feel that its necessary to make sure that were looking at all of our options, and that this delay is not going to cause huge changes in the water quality in that period of time, said spokeswoman Susan Massengale.
Hopes for technology
Its hard to say just what effect water circulators or other technology would have on the lake, according to Kenneth Reckhow, a professor emeritus at Duke University who has written articles on nutrient management.
The water-mixing technique has been used for decades in smaller bodies of water, and the town of Cary already plans to deploy a similar aeration system near its water plants intake on Jordan Lake.
Supporters of the delay hope that the new technology will be good enough to change the game, offering a new path to the water-quality levels required by the Clean Water Act.
But Reckhow says theres no chance the devices or any other technique would effectively replace the stormwater controls of the current approach. Moreover, he said, the situation could grow worse as more land is paved and more water flows toward the lake.
The concern I have as a scientist is if the Jordan rules are deferred for three years, theres three lost years of opportunity to get the phosphorus and nitrogen sources in the watershed reduced, he said.
Another expert, however, argues that in-lake technology might be crucial to cleanup. Watershed management or stormwater control alone has no prayer of meeting the water quality standards in most cases, said Ken Wagner, president of Water Resource Services and editor of Lake and Reservoir Management.
But in-lake solutions arent the be-all, end-alls either, he said.
The Jordan Lake Water Quality Act awaits approval by the House, Senate and governor.