Environmental groups call on NC to address Jordan Lake pollution

APEX, N.C. (WNCN) – Just as some families get ready to enjoy the warm summer weather at Jordan Lake, the state is ending a controversial plan to clean it up.

The Department of Environmental Quality tried a new way to address the pollution in the lake, which is also a source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people.

The devices are called SolarBees, and about three dozen of them have been floating on the lake for just under two years.

“It’s first grade science, what they were using. Stir the lake up and hopefully it’ll go away,” said Dan Crawford, governmental relations director for the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters.

The SolarBees initially cost about $1.3 million. The legislature signed off on spending another $1.5 million.

But, the secretary of the DEQ says that additional spending won’t be necessary. He’s suspending the project after a report shows the SolarBees provided “no significant change in water quality.”

Assistant Secretary for the Environment, Tom Reeder, said, “We thought it was worth a try. It’s a scientific experiment. We thought it was worth a try to try these things out. They’d never been done on this scale before and see if they really worked or not.”

Now that the SolarBee project is ending, environmental groups are calling on DEQ to better address the problem.

Jordan Lake is a drinking water source for about 300,000 people.

Reeder said the water “can easily be treated by water treatment plants to make sure the water’s safe to drink for their customers, so I’m not overly concerned about the drinking water aspects of this.”

Dustin Chicurel-Bayard of the NC Sierra Club says he’s concerned about the time lost to clean up the lake.

The DEQ and the Environmental Management Commission are in the process of submitting reports to the legislature to help determine what to do next. Chircurel-Bayard noted it’s unusual to have both agencies submitting reports.

Reeder responded, “Well, it’s really not that big of a deal. We just have differing opinions on what the report should say.”

Chicurel-Bayard advocated for the implantation of what are knowns as the “Jordan Lake Rules.” It’s a plan to improve water quality that the legislature approved in 2009 but has been on hold since the SolarBees project began.

“Jordan Lake being an impaired water body is something we’ve been dealing with for many years. Hopefully, the legislature recognizes this opportunity to take action and fix the problem once and for all,” Chicurel-Bayard said.

Reeder says implementing the Jordan Lake Rules is not as simple as it may seem.

Communities upstream, especially in the Triad, have been concerned about the cost of upgrades to facilities to meet the new requirements.

“I’m not sure we just want to move forward with another set of rules until we’re sure these rules are going to work. Remember these rules are very costly to the state of North Carolina. They can cost $900 million to fully implement,” he said.

That’s a cost that could be passed on to customers.

“What we’re doing now is passing the buck onto cities and towns who use Jordan Lake as a drinking water supply. So, the best solution, the cheapest solution is to stop the pollutions from getting there in the first place,” said Chicurel-Bayard.

State legislators plan to ask the DEQ to send them an additional report by the beginning of December looking at efforts statewide to deal with water pollution.

The goal is to see what’s working and what isn’t ahead of next year’s legislative session.

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