Here we go again. The General Assembly is gearing up to throw more money at another cartoonish scheme to reduce algae blooms in our water while repealing the real, effective strategies that are actually doing some good.
Over the past few years, the GA has allocated over $2.8 million experimenting with SolarBees – the name for swimming robots designed to churn away algae on the water. It took the Department of Environmental Quality until spring of this year to conclude the obvious: They don’t work.
Now, after delaying full implementation of rules that would make a difference, the legislators in Raleigh want to spend more taxpayer money on a plan as zany as algae-stirring robots. The budget proposal from the Senate would earmark $500,000 from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to study whether freshwater mussels should be introduced into Jordan Lake to filter out pollutants.
At the same time, the latest budget proposal would repeal a set of pollution containment strategies that, if given a chance, would have a significant effect on the levels of nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants in Jordan Lake and Falls Lake and their tributaries, including the Neuse River.
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The science is clear that controlling nutrient pollutants in Jordan Lake requires managing sources upstream where they enter the waterways feeding into the lake. The pollution containment strategy (also called nutrient management strategies) includes the following steps, each shown to be effective:
▪ Wastewater treatment upgrades.
▪ Controls on runoff from developments and farm fields.
▪ Protection of riparian buffers or limits on certain activities and construction on the land closest to the water’s edge, which helps prevent stormwater contamination and other forms of pollution.
These have demonstrated an ability to control harmful nutrients entering the water, and they’ve barely been given a chance to take hold. Legislators need to preserve and expand the nutrient management strategy rules, not delay and repeal them.
Senate leaders promised that the budget would not be loaded up with policy provisions, but that appears to have been insincere. The document they approved contains a slew of policy measures that without question would leave North Carolina residents with lower water quality.
Lawmakers should remove these attacks on clean water from the budget before it moves forward.
Matthew Starr of Raleigh is the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper.