Wake County leaders are concerned about the area’s water supply and the future of a regional transit system.
Wake’s Board of Commissioners, all Democrats, plan to seek help from the Republican-run legislature since it convened Wednesday.
Protecting Jordan and Falls lakes, which provide drinking water to most Wake residents, will likely top the county’s to-do list when it lobbies state legislators this year, according to county documents. Wake’s seven-member board was scheduled to discuss its goals during a work session Monday afternoon, but the meeting was canceled due to weather.
Sig Hutchinson, commissioners chairman, said in an interview that he hopes the county can work with state leaders to not only keep current protections – which some legislators tried to repeal last year – but to agree on a strategy for cleaning Jordan and Falls lakes.
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A Democrat-led legislature in 2009 adopted construction and development restrictions on upstream communities to prevent pollution in Jordan and Falls lakes. But Republicans who gained control of state government in 2010 have been reluctant to enforce the rules, saying they’re too detrimental to upstream economies.
For Jordan Lake, state lawmakers in 2014 turned to SolarBees, floating devices that churn the water in an attempt to reduce the effects of pollution-causing algae. Then last spring, state Department of Environmental Quality officials said the SolarBees were ineffective and removed them from the lake.
The state has commissioned studies from UNC-Chapel Hill to help evaluate and revise water quality standards and practices. Cary and Apex, meanwhile, recently agreed to buy an aeration system that will circulate water near their water intake, just north of where U.S. 64 crosses Jordan Lake.
“We’ve delayed the implementation of the Jordan Lake rules for a very long time,” said Wake Commissioner Matt Calabria, the board’s vice chairman. “For the sake of our water quality, it’s very important that we put in place rules that protect our drinking water.”
Hutchinson said he hopes Wake representatives also will ask legislators to loosen a law passed last year that prevents rail projects from receiving more than 10 percent of their total funding from the state government.
Wake residents in November voted to raise the sales tax rate by a half-cent to help fund the Wake Transit Plan, which will bring commuter rail and enhanced bus service to Wake over the next decade.
Hutchinson hopes Wake’s system will someday connect to one in Durham and Orange counties. But, because of the state’s new spending cap on transit, Durham and Orange now face a $254 million funding gap to build a light rail connection between the counties.
If counties can’t get more financial support from the state government, Hutchinson said Wake and other counties will have trouble qualifying for federal funding.
“We have to look at our transportation system as a region,” Hutchinson said.
“When we go up to Washington to lobby for funding, they wanna know that we have a regional transportation plan,” he said. “So when the legislature starts restricting the Orange-Durham line, it inhibits our ability to fundraise for Wake County.”