Long-delayed measures to clean up pollution at Jordan Lake and Falls Lake, major sources of drinking water for the Triangle, will be postponed again so that studies of the options can be completed.
The N.C. General Assembly extended the deadlines with a provision in the state budget, which is scheduled to be approved this week.
Measures directed at reducing pollution from upstream communities were put on hold when Republicans took over the General Assembly in 2011. Some Republican lawmakers, developers and upstream communities wanted to write new rules because they were frustrated that there had been minimal improvements and potentially exorbitant costs if full protections were implemented.
Legislators looked for other ways to clean up, including in 2014 putting floating, rotating devices on the surface of Jordan Lake, but that had little effect. In a later budget, the legislature proposed dumping freshwater mussels into the lakes to get rid of the algae, but that plan was never tried.
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Legislators in 2016 established the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill to award research grants and make recommendations to the General Assembly, and told it to study ways to clean up Jordan Lake and Falls Lakes, which have become polluted with algae blooms.
Environmentalists said the protections had not been given enough time to work. They warn of a return to a time when there were massive fish kills in the Neuse River and Pamlico River.
Now, since UNC studies are underway, legislative leaders think it makes sense to wait until the studies are complete before deciding how to go about cleaning up the lakes, said key budget-writer Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Jacksonville.
Strategies for new rules to clean up Jordan Lake were scheduled to be put into place about a year from now, but will be given until the end of 2020, under the budget. New regulations for Falls Lake will be given until the end of 2024.
The Sierra Club says this fifth delay of environmental protections at Jordan Lake conflicts with the federally mandated requirements to protect drinking water reservoirs.
"The budget contains yet another delay of the many-times-delayed Jordan Lake clean-up rules," Sierra Club legislative affairs director Cassie Gavin said in an email Wednesday. "Given the public focus and concern about water quality issues right now, this is surprising and unwelcome."