With two prominent Democrats objecting, state leaders endorsed a disputed effort to clean up Jordan Lake, a source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands in the Triangle.
In a presentation Tuesday to the Council of State, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla pushed the project to install solar-powered circulator devices in the lake to help reduce algae pollution. He asked the council to enter into a lease to acquire land easements at the bottom of the lake from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to anchor the water robots.
It could save big money, he said, arguing that rules to limit pollution flowing into the lake could cost $1 billion to $2 billion. “It’s a big number, governor,” Skvarla said.
Last summer, the legislature voted to delay cleanup rules for the lake for three years. Those rules, guided by EPA standards, were debated for years before approval in 2009. They basically aim to starve Jordan Lake’s algae by limiting the flow of nutrients into the lake.
The two-year experiment involves putting 36 machines along the lake’s nutrient-polluted inlets in what is among the largest-ever tests of the technology. Republican legislative leaders put a special provision in the budget that effectively applies only to Medora Corp.’s SolarBee devices. The project’s costs are estimated at $1.44 million.
At the meeting, Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, questioned why the state was backing a program that didn’t reduce pollutants in the water or prevent them from flowing into the lake.
Cooper said he reviewed information suggesting the devices weren’t successful. But DENR officials said the company promised a 90 percent to 95 percent success rate and said it worked in one lake in Texas.
Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall questioned why the council needed to consider the item so quickly, given that the environmental assessment for the project has not been approved by the Corps.
DENR is trying to get the devices in the water in April, and Skvarla assured her that the project would have minimal affects on wildlife or on boaters who use the lake.
The council approved the lease contingent upon a satisfactory environmental study with dissenting votes from Cooper and Democratic State Treasurer Janet Cowell. Gov. Pat McCrory appeared to speak in favor of the project, but he does not vote.