Rules related to a lake supplying drinking water may be delayed

Jul. 11, 2013 @ 08:51 PM

RALEIGH — Pollution-control rules for a central North Carolina lake that supplies drinking water to some Triangle communities would be delayed for another three years rather than repealed in a bill passed Thursday by a state House committee.

The House environment panel voted 12-9 to support scaled-back legislation from the Senate that originally had scrapped the rules designed to reduce Jordan Lake's nutrient levels. The nutrients cause algae buildup, which can lead to fish kills and poor water quality.

The Jordan Lake watershed, which includes parts of 10 counties and at least some of Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Greensboro and Burlington, are subject to the rules. Some local governments and businesses have said the upstream regulations designed to reduce pollution sources are expensive and hurt growth.

"The lake rules have caused a tremendous burden upstream on municipalities, on the taxpayers, on development and on businesses," said state Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, a primary bill sponsor. Gunn said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources can't give him assurances that the rules will result in markedly improved waters. He said implementation of the rules over time will cost $2 billion.

"It would be one thing to have reason to believe that these rules are going to actually clean this lake," Gunn said. "But we have not the evidence to prove that."

Environmental groups say it make no sense to delay rules until July 2016 — let alone repeal them — since they haven't been given time to reduce pollution, ultimately by an estimated 35 percent. The lake provides drinking water to 300,000 residents in Cary, Apex, Morrisville and other smaller communities. Some rules that already have taken effect will continue to be carried out.

Morrisville Mayor Jackie Holcombe said she didn't understand "how delaying it will lead to a cleaner water source for my residents and the 300,000 we keep talking about."

Laws designed to address impaired waters of the man-made Jordan Lake, which was created in 1983, have been approved over the past 15 years.

"We're never going to get a clean Jordan Lake if we just keep delaying the inevitable," Elizabeth Ouzts, state director of Environment North Carolina, a nonprofit advocacy group, said after the vote. "They just need to be allowed to go into place and to work."

Gunn said he anticipates further legislative action this session, including the formation of a study committee to examine the rules and funds to perform a pilot project within two arms of the lake. The pilot would examine whether machinery to increase circulation can reduce algae blooms.

"There are new technologies out there that we did not have and are available now," he said.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which said earlier the Senate bill repealing the rules would violate federal directives to improve water quality, is fine with the new version, according to an official.

"There's nothing wrong with taking a few years to do this testing of technology to see if we can figure out a way to do it cheaper and easier than what we planned on doing in the early 2000s," said Tom Reeder, director of the state Division of Water Resources.

The bill, whose next stop is the House floor, was passed despite some Republican opposition in the committee.

"These rules, while contentious and very, very difficult and unfortunately expensive, are what they are and I don't know whether studying them is any better," said Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has concerns about using technology to mitigate pollution without pollution reductions upstream. The approach is "generally inconsistent" with the U.S. Clean Water Act, EPA acting regional administrator Stanley Meiburg wrote in a letter dated Wednesday to Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.