State leaders should be trying to clean up polluted Jordan Lake as fast as possible. Instead, they have chosen to allow pollution to mount and to award a no-bid contract to a company for installing a product that won’t clean up our drinking water. Especially troubling is that legislators actually voted to delay the clean-up plan already agreed to by Triangle and Triad municipalities, as well as developers, citizen groups and the state.
The purpose of the “SolarBee” technology is not to remove pollutants from water, but rather to stir up blue-green algae. Algae overgrowth is a huge problem for water quality, but not the only one. Mixing water does not reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, fertilizers, dirt, oil and chemicals that endanger public health and ecosystems, affect sports recreation and impinge on taxpayers and business. We need an effective watershed approach, rather than this single, limited technology that will cost Triangle taxpayers more in the long run because municipalities must spend more on expensive filtration and chemicals to treat water.
Ironically, funds for this project were taken from NC’s dwindling Clean Water Management Trust Fund, long used to improve water quality. Because SolarBee’s circulators won’t actually clean our water, there’s a disconnect between policies and the effect on water quality. Let’s imagine exactly how this project would work if implemented fully.
Over 150 large mixers will float on the lake, posing hazards to boaters and water-skiers, while also being a tempting target for vandalism. This technology is meant for small water bodies, not large reservoirs. Questions exist about how effective the technology will be in the expanse of Jordan.
Let’s remember why we have the Jordan Lake clean-up rules in the first place. Jordan has been rated as impaired for many years because its water quality is seriously degraded. Swimmers are warned to wash afterward, and wildlife suffer from lack of oxygen and toxins. The federal government has required the state to develop a plan to reduce pollution at its source, in accordance with the Clean Water Act. The source of the problem is not Jordan Lake, but the wastewater treatment and uncontrolled development upstream of the lake.
So focusing only on algae in Jordan will not keep North Carolina in compliance with federal law because, quite simply, water mixers won’t clean up the water.
Understandably, communities like Greensboro and Burlington don’t want to bear increased costs for their pollution, and they don’t want to ask developers to change development approaches. But what about the many communities downstream, like Cary, Morrisville, Apex, Fayetteville and Wilmington? Is this fair to them? Recent studies in the Cape Fear River – which that flows to communities downstream of Jordan – conducted by UNC-Wilmington researchers have found excessive blue-green algae blooms beginning in 2009 containing high levels of a toxin called microcystin. The World Health Organization deems one microgram of microcystin per liter of water to be the maximumfor human drinking water safety. The N.C. Division of Public Health found levels of 73 micrograms per liter, prompting the first-ever warning to keep children and dogs from swimming in the affected areas. One sample found levels up to 390 micrograms!
Algae circulators will not prevent this from continuing to happen because the pollutants that cause the toxic algae will still be flowing into the Cape Fear and circulators will not suffice as a long-term solution to solving the water quality problem.
It’s important to note that the Jordan rules don’t stop development but simply require some change in how it is done. Low-impact development methods used increasingly in North Carolina are a win-win situation for the public, developers and the state.
Even more unfair to communities in the Triangle and along the Cape Fear is that the deck is stacked against moving forward on the Jordan rules. A legislative committee has been appointed to develop new approaches to cleaning Jordan, but most of the committee members already voted to delay the Jordan rules. The Triangle and the downstream communities must talk to their elected leaders about how to keep our water clean and safe and not waste our local taxes.
Karen Rindge is executive director of WakeUP Wake County.