Under the Dome

SolarBees planned for Jordan Lake didn't do well elsewhere

The SolarBee water circulator would be used to help reduce algae pollution in Jordan Lake.
The SolarBee water circulator would be used to help reduce algae pollution in Jordan Lake. MEDORA CORP.

The floating, circulating devices that state lawmakers want to use to clean up Jordan Lake didn’t do so well in a pilot project elsewhere in North Carolina.

SolarBees were employed in Cabarrus County’s Lake Howell in 2007, but monitoring and testing by the UNC-Charlotte Environmental Assistance Office led to a less than enthusiastic review.

The devices had a “subtle” performance record, according to the university’s final recommendation in 2010. The recommendation: Stop using SolarBees because they had “minimal improvements” on water quality, or else modify the devices.

State Rep. Tom Murry, a Republican from Cary, raised questions about the Lake Howell pilot project at a legislative committee meeting last month. “I don’t like to waste taxpayers’ money,” he said, calling for firm data on whether the SolarBees work or not.

Jordan Lake provides drinking water for 300,000 people. Murry represents a district that is downstream from the lake.

Upstream legislators, representing polluting municipalities, are anxious to find a way to clean up the lake without imposing the measures that a previous General Assembly approved in 2009.

Their answer: Three dozen solar-powered creatures that would help combat pollution from algae, placed on tributaries pouring into the lake.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has done an environmental assessment of the pilot project and found no significant downsides. But the state chapter of the Sierra Club recently submitted its comments on that assessment, stressing the poor performance at Lake Howell.

“Jordan Lake needs science-based solutions to control pollution, not water mixers,” the Sierra Club says.

The organization says lake cleanup will happen when stormwater runoff from development is controlled better, and when upstream wastewater treatment plants are upgraded, which is what the 2009 rules required.

“The Corps can’t make that happen, but it can end the sideshow of floating water mixers on Jordan Lake, and thereby take away the state’s excuse for further delay of the Jordan Lake rules,” the Sierra Club says.

The Army Corps could deny the state a license to place the devices.