Published: Feb 02, 2013 07:00 PM
Modified: Feb 02, 2013 05:51 PM
Jordan Lake matters. Its one of our regions most important drinking water and recreation reservoirs.
Jordan Lake is also polluted. It has been on the federal Impaired Waters List since 2002, because of too much nitrogen and phosphorus (nutrients). These nutrients grow algae a lot of it. Excessive algae can be nasty-looking green slime, but scientists are also concerned that some of these algal growths can be toxic and create problems for drinking water use and water-contact recreation.
This nutrient pollution comes from stormwater and treated sewage from the nearly 1 million people that live in the watershed including Greensboro, Reidsville, Burlington, Chapel Hill, south Durham, western Wake and Chatham county.
For seven years, stakeholders convened by the state worked on rules to clean up this pollution. The Jordan Lake rules were finally made law by the General Assembly in 2009 with many parts weakened or delayed especially the attempt to address the pollution coming from existing development.
Greensboro, Durham and Burlington voiced outrage at the cost of this, even though older development in cities was built when there was little effort for keeping polluted stormwater out of streams.
The rules encourage new strategies with many urban benefits such as rain gardens, cisterns, green roofs and other ways to slow down water rather than more costly, older methods such as stormwater ponds.
Unfortunately, under new Republican leadership in the General Assembly, the Jordan lake rules have been weakened each year at the urging of upriver cities and development lobbyists.
In 2010 Greensboro and Burlington got the legislature to delay until 2018 the upgrades at wastewater treatment plants for reducing nitrogen. And in the 2011 session, Greensboro led the effort to delay new stormwater pollution controls for any new developments for another two years.
Bad idea. When the stormwater pollution from this future new development adds to the total pollution load in the Jordan Lake, it will need to be cleaned up as existing development at taxpayer expense. The good news is that many responsible local governments had already implemented their new development stormwater rules by the original deadline and decided to stay the course.
We now hear Durham is teaming up with Greensboro, Burlington and other upriver towns to delay even longer the effort to reduce pollution from existing development. They argue this is necessary since they have already succeeded in delaying other parts of the rules implementation. On the face of it, that seems reasonable, but the reality is that the lake is not getting cleaner through these delays. Their legislation may also require the state to take over responsibility for enforcing the riparian buffers instead of local governments. Again, a reasonable idea, but it does not consider that DENR has less resources than ever to do this work.
Jordan Lake is polluted by what is already built in the watershed. Dirty water gets to the lake from dirty streams flowing into it. The rules if allowed to be implemented would reduce ALL sources of nutrient pollution from wastewater and stormwater. This will mean cleaner creeks in Greensboro, Durham, and other cities whose streams have been on the EPA Impaired Waters list for a long time.
Jordan Lake matters. About 300,000 people downstream use Jordan Lake for drinking water, and millions enjoy the lake for recreation. Since Durham now sees Jordan Lake as a significant water-supply source, it would do better to join with other local governments Cary, Apex, Morrisville, Chatham, Pittsboro, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro who all have a big stake in cleaner water in Jordan Lake for their citizens.