Jordan Lake advocates call on rejection of bill to repeal cleanu - WNCN: News, Weather

Jordan Lake advocates call on rejection of bill to repeal cleanup plan

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Clean Jordan Lake volunteers collect trash on the shoreline from Poe's Ridge Boat Ramp to B. Everett Jordan Dam. (Anna Whaley, WNCN) Clean Jordan Lake volunteers collect trash on the shoreline from Poe's Ridge Boat Ramp to B. Everett Jordan Dam. (Anna Whaley, WNCN)
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Local leaders, business owners and residents gathered at Jordan Lake Friday to urge lawmakers to reject a bill that would repeal a 2009 cleanup plan for the lake.

"I'm a Republican and here I am talking with all the environmental groups," Morrisville Town Councilman Mark Stohlman said at Friday's event. "I think what it shows is we're talking about fish and birds, not elephants and donkeys."

Senate Bill 515, entitled the Jordan Lake Water Quality Act, would repeal a 2009 plan to mitigate pollution and runoff flowing into Jordan Lake.

The Senate passed the bill last week with 31-16 vote. It has been referred to the House Committee on Environment.

The bill argues, "The design of the lake creates a situation of perpetual impairment regardless of upstream variables. Therefore, the state's existing nutrient management strategies regulating the lake basin will continue to have little or no effect on water quality improvement in the lake itself."

The lake, which includes parts of 10 counties in the Piedmont region, was created 30 years ago to provide flood control and water supply. But it has struggled from the outset with high nutrient levels that cause harmful algae buildup.

Opponents of the bill say the 2009 cleanup plan would reduce pollution into Jordan Lake by up to 35 percent.

"The Senate's vote to repeal the Jordan Lake rules is a slap in the face to all of us who care about the quality of the lake's water for people who drink it, fish, swim and play in it," said Elaine Chiosso, with Haw River advocacy group Haw Riverkeeper. "Dirty water gets to the lake from dirty creeks."

Chis Carter, with Haw River Assembly added, "If we remove these rules, we're going to see the lake deteriorate. It will smell bad, there will be more beach closures, fish kills -- things that are rare now will become more common."

Jordan Lake is a source of drinking water for more than 300,000 Triangle residents. The lake also brought 1.2 million visitors to its shores in 2012 for leisure, recreation and sport.

"Tourism in Chatham generates about $28 million to the local economy," Chatham County Commissioner Sally Kost explained. "That may not seem like a big number to many; but to our 65,000 people, that is a big number."

Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, the bill's lead sponsor, lives in one of those upstream communities. He argues the state's Department of Environment and Natural Resources studies show little to no improvement in water quality since 2004 but the rules require major investments and hassles for developers.

"It continues to put tremendous burdens on the counties, municipalities and the private sector," he said.

While the bill argues that the current nutrient management strategy inhibits economic growth, proponents of the cleanup plan say less pollution will attract more visitors.

"Which is better, less pollution or more pollution?" asked Elizabeth Ouzts, state director for Environment North Carolina. "For all who rely on the lake for drinking water, and for all the visitors who'll be flocking here this weekend, less pollution is clearly better."

The bill calls for a "completely new approach for water quality management" by establishing the "Jordan Lake Study Subcommittee to consider all issues deemed relevant to addressing the water quality in Jordan Lake."

It also directs state agencies to consult with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to find ways to renew focus away from efforts to mitigate pollutants upstream--a sore spot for upstream communities that believe they're shouldering too much of the burden but a cause that many consider critical to improving water quality downstream.

The commission would then report any findings and recommendations to the 2014 Regular Session of the 2013 General Assembly.

"Repealing the existing Jordan Lake cleanup plan without any new plan in place makes no sense," said Molly Diggins, state director of the N.C. Sierra Club.

Jordan Lake Study Subcommittee would be made up of five Senators appointed by the president pro tempore and five Representatives appointed by the speaker of the House.

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Steve Sbraccia

Steve is an award-winning reporter for WNCN and former assistant professor. A seasoned professional, Steve is proud to call the Triangle home since 2005 after over two decades in Boston, Mass.  More>>

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