Here’s a new indicator for measuring North Carolina’s environmental health: Watch the level of bottled-water sales at the state legislature. If lawmakers are paying attention to what they’re doing to water supplies, they’re likely to steer clear of the tap.
The quality of the Triangle’s water is threatened by legislative negligence. The General Assembly has stalled full imposition of the so-called Jordan Lake rules, a set of requirements aimed at reducing pollution upstream of Jordan Lake, the water source for 300,000 Triangle residents.
Now sweeping new provisions in the state Senate’s budget proposal could cause wider deterioration of water quality in the state’s reservoirs and waterways. A major proposed change is to repeal the requirements for riparian buffers along rivers statewide. The buffers – strips of natural vegetation along water ways – filter out pollutants, especially the heavy loads of fertilizer and petroleum products carried by stormwater runoff.
Republicans who control the Senate want to eliminate the buffers for the same reason the GOP-led legislature has stalled the Jordan Lake rules. It will help land developers who don’t want to set aside acres for buffers or otherwise control runoff from their properties.
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That, however, is not the reason the Senate budget cites. It says simply that programs to control nutrients getting into rivers and lakes have failed and must be replaced with a new approach that’s yet to be determined. This is a typically high-handed move by the imperial Senate Republicans. They don’t propose eliminating buffers in a free-standing bill that experts can assess in public hearings. They declare it in the budget without debate.
The Senate proposal would delay full implementation of the Jordan Lake rules and by 2020 repeal those rules and nutrient management rules for Raleigh’s main water source, Falls Lake, and the estuaries of the Neuse, Tar and Pamlico rivers.
The Senate proposal is far more than pandering to developers and agricultural interests. It is a threat to the quality of North Carolina’s waterways and the quality of drinking water. Some may see a short-term financial gain from lifting regulations, but hurting water quality ultimately hurts everyone in the state.
It’s up to the House to stand firm for drinking water improvement and water quality protections. Any compromise here is failure to serve North Carolina. If the House lacks the will, Gov. Pat McCrory should announce early on that he will veto any budget that includes a weakening of water protections.